The Government Accountability Office's (GAO) report on E-Verify included some happy news (E-Verify is more accurate than ever) and some disappointing news (ICE's misplaced priorities). I was also disappointed in some of the things the report did not include. Below are some highlights from the report and my response.
E-Verify Is Accurate
The GAO reports that E-Verify has earned some impressive marks in accuracy, and USCIS has proudly displayed the findings in a pie chart. Here are the key statistics:
- 97.4 percent of employees are automatically confirmed as authorized to work ("work authorized") either instantly or within 24 hours, requiring no employee or employer action.
2.6 percent of employees receive initial system mismatches ("tentative non-confirmations")
- 0.3 percent are later confirmed as work authorized after contesting and resolving the mismatch;
- 2.3 percent are not found work authorized.
Take special notice of the 0.3 percent figure. This is the so-called "error rate" for legal workers, and must be some kind of record for a government program. Only three-tenths of one percent of employees run through E-Verify receive a tentative non-confirmation notice in error. As the GAO report notes, this often occurs when "employees naturalize or marry or divorce and change their names without informing SSA or DHS of the name change," or when a government document simply spelled a person's name incorrectly. It would have been helpful for the GAO to also point out that for the 0.3 percent of employees who receive these tentative non-confirmations in error, E-Verify is an early alert system that can save them trouble down the road. You don't want to find out that you have a problem with your Social Security records on the day you retire! It is much easier for these employees to follow the instructions provided by E-Verify to clear up their records. And, by law, the employee can continue to work during the time it takes them to update their records.
E-Verify Needs More Support From Congress and the White House
The GAO reports that USCIS (the agency that runs E-Verify) has limited powers to investigate and impose penalties on employers who knowingly use E-Verify for an unauthorized purpose such as pre-screening employees. USCIS relies on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for enforcement, but ICE officials chillingly claim that they neither have the resources to do so, nor would such enforcement actions square with ICE's priorities:
"[ICE officials] stated that referrals from USCIS could be of more assistance if they were more closely aligned with ICE’s worksite enforcement priorities....given ICE’s existing priorities and resource constraints, ICE is limited in its ability to investigate and sanction employer noncompliance with immigration laws. Senior ICE officials acknowledged that the same limitations would exist if E-Verify became mandatory nationwide." (p. 32)
When you read the word "priorities" above, bear in mind that ICE agents cast a "Vote of No Confidence" for ICE Director John Morton and Asst. Director Phyllis Coven in 2010, saying their leaders had "abandoned the Agency's core mission of enforcing United States Immigration Laws..." When you read the word "limitations," recall that the Obama Administration's budget called for cuts (from $137 million to $103) in E-Verify funding in FY2011.
The Social Security Administration Can Close the Identity Theft Loophole
Unfortunately, the most recent data the GAO was able to find on E-Verify's vulnerability to identity theft was from April-June 2008. Since that time, E-Verify has expanded its Photo Matching Tool and stopped accepting expired documents from the I-9 form. Nevertheless, the GAO reports that E-Verify is still susceptible to fraud, enabling illegal workers who engage in identity theft or fraud to trick the system into authorizing them for work. The GAO discusses biometrics as a possible solution, but I was surprised and disappointed that it overlooked the obvious: The Social Security Administration could close the loophole almost entirely if it would simply notify workers with more than one employer making contributions to their social security account numbers and ask them to report if they were not actually working for each of those employers. SSA, however, has a policy of not informing the victims of identity theft.
For More Information...
NumbersUSA has put together an E-Verify factsheet, a map of states with (or considering) E-Verify laws, and search engine you can use to find businesses in your area that use E-Verify. You can also watch these USCIS videos on how to create an E-Verify case, and how to respond to a tentative non-confirmation.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Mon, Jan 24th 2011 @ 10:36am EST