National Immigration Forum

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More Bad News for E-Verify

February 13, 2009 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin

The Migration Policy Institute report (see earlier blog post) contained more bad news for the folks who see the E-Verify electronic worker verification system as the (latest) silver bullet in the fight against immigrants contributing to the U.S. economy. 


Mandatory employer verification must be the center of legislation to combat illegal immigration.  Until such legislation is enacted, the administration should support reauthorization of the E-Verify employment verification system and expand its use as a voluntary program, allowing for its steady improvement in moving to a scale as a mandatory program.  Attention should now be focused on continued improvement in the accuracy of the DHS and SSA databases, development of a secure system of identification, and improved rates of employer compliance with program rules. – “DHS: Taking Stock and Correcting Course,” Migration Policy Institute, p. 2.


The key phrase being “Until such legislation is enacted…”  In other words, don’t make E-Verify mandatory for more businesses until E-Verify is improved.  We agree.


If you want more evidence for why massive E-Verify expansion right now is a bad idea, note this story from the Washington Post. Joe Davidson’s Federal Diary column outlines a GAO report on the significant problems that the Social Security Administration is already having.  The Social Security system, with so many relying on it, is currently swamped and overloaded. E-Verify, as many have testified before Congress, will significantly increase the work load on SSA (see this letter to lawmakers from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare from 2008), which the Post reports is already having problems in this area:


Workers at the Social Security Administration are working harder and enjoying it less, while its customers grow ever more frustrated.


That's a major take-away from a recent Government Accountability Office report detailing the negative impact of SSA staff cuts….Staffing in SSA field offices dropped 4.4 percent from fiscal 2005 to 2008. As you might expect, the amount of work produced also fell… -- Joe Davidson, “Social Security Workers Feeling Strapped, Washington Post, February 12, 2009


At this writing, it is not clear what, if anything, pertaining to E-Verify will or will not be in the President’s stimulus package working its way through Congress. 


However, this excerpt from a National Immigration Forum fact sheet offers some of the reasons why we think making the program mandatory or vastly expanding are bad ideas, especially as part of a package to create – not destroy – jobs for American workers.


Businesses that use E-Verify report that it is not easy, reliable or low-cost:


§         Up to 15% of their lawful workforce (not the .05% claimed by DHS) are initially misidentified as not authorized to work.

§         Trying to resolve errors involves significant investments of time, money, training and other resources that many employers, especially small ones, simply don’t have or can’t afford.

§         Small businesses (which employ approximately half of the entire U.S. workforce and have generated 60 to 80 percent of net new jobs annually over the last decade) are being hit harder by the economy and more burdens could prevent them from creating new jobs and revenues.


“Preparing for the transition to us­ing E-Verify was extremely costly and disruptive to our operations.  All of our restaurant managers, assistant managers, and directors of operations had to attend external training.  The training cost the company both in the fees that are paid to attend the training sessions and in lost productivity of these critical employees. . . . MCL Enterprises is fortunate to have the staff to deal with these issues and allow for redundancy and backup.  For smaller operations that do not have that luxury, the burdens will be even greater.”

Mitchell Laird, president, MCL Enterprises,

Phoenix, Arizona


“[Small family-owned farms] don’t have a personnel department to handle verification.  Many of them do not even have high-speed Internet access that is needed to get into the E-Verify system.”

Craig Regelbrugge, vice president of government relations, American Nursery & Landscape Association


“It may seem simple to legislators, but once it gets applied, each business has to do another task for the govern­ment and that could be difficult.”

John Cronin, executive director, Rhode Island Small Business Development Center


U.S. citizens and lawful immigrant workers, who need to correct records with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Social Security Administration (SSA), or both, face big hurdles:


§         Over 50% of people who call a local SSA field office with inquiries receive a busy signal.

§         In-person visits to SSA or DHS regional and field offices will be tough for workers, especially rural ones, since most offices require lengthy travel and are only open during workday hours.

§         U.S. citizens who have to present original records to correct problems could face long waits. In Arizona, all certified copies of birth certificates for births occurring before 1990 are not available for in-person pick-up and can only be received through the mail. Requests for birth certificates take approximately 15-20 days for regular processing.


“I think most employers really want to be in compliance with the law.  But if we’re going to end up firing people because of inaccuracies in the data, that’s a problem.  If you dismiss someone who is here legally, you’re liable for ‘wrongful termination’ [of an employee].  It’s a sticky question.”

Tim Hartigan, president, St. Paul Brass and Aluminum Foundry, St. Paul, Minnesota


“So much of our hiring is done in the field where there is not immediate computer access.  It is over a week to 10 days before paperwork makes it back to the office to start the [E-Verify] process. . . . [T]hat would mean we’d have real time problems.”

David Dayvault, president, Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association


Estimates also point to crippling economic effects of mandating E-Verify:


§         The Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2008 that mandatory use by all U.S. employers (without legalization) would lead to an increase in undocumented workers being paid outside the tax system, which over a 10-year period would result in a loss of $17.3 billion in federal revenue.

§         The U.S. Chamber of Commerce concluded a federal rule, more narrow than the stimulus provision, mandating E-Verify for federal contractors would result in net societal costs of $10 billion a year.

§         The federal government estimated in 2008 that the same federal rule (applied only to federal contractors) would impose costs on them of at least $100 million in the first year and between $550 to $670 million during the next 10 years.


“…[T]he meat and poultry industry is under duress from high grain inputs and trade barriers — shackling busi­nesses with an unfunded federal man­date is not wise.”

Janet M. Riley, senior vice president for public affairs and professional development, American Meat Institute



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