E-Verify, the Veritable Bad News

By June 19, 2008Human Resources

Last week, President Bush issued an Executive Order that effectively requires all federal contractors to enroll in and use E-Verify as a condition of doing work with the federal government.

Subsequently, the Department of Defense, the General Services Administration, and NASA issued a joint proposed rule in the Federal Register to amend the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to comply with the Executive Order.

Let’s examine the proposal. No arguments in the beginning, as the proposed rule states:

[One] of the Government’s primary responsibilities is the enforcement of the immigration laws of the United States. It is appropriate to ensure that Government contractors and subcontractors abide by the immigration laws that the Government enforces. In 1986, Congress amended the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to prohibit the hiring or continued employment of aliens, knowing that the aliens are unauthorized to work in the United States.

Most employers would agree as they want to obey the law and be in compliance.

Continuing, you get to this section: 

The E-Verify System is expected to help contractors avoid employment of unauthorized aliens and will assist Federal agencies to avoid contracting with companies that knowingly hire unauthorized aliens. This enhances the Government’s ability to protect national security and ensure compliance with the nation’s immigration laws … It also protects U.S. workers…

Now we have a problem.

E-Verify does not help avoid employment of unauthorized aliens. The system only checks whether a Social Security number is valid, not whether the individual who presents the information is that actual individual.  I can steal your information and get real-enough looking information documents, and I will sail right through E-Verify’s system. 

This is exactly what happened in the Swift & Co. raids that took place over a year ago.  Although Swift was participating in E-Verify and had screened all their workers through the system, ICE raided their facilities and rounded up their workers.  Many had used legitimate, stolen identity information.  Unauthorized aliens were easily making their way through E-Verify exposing one of its major flaws – it does not prevent identity theft.  And on that last piece about protecting U.S. workers, an expansion of E-Verify is likely to increase ID theft, hurting U.S. citizens.

Not only may the new requirements drive up ID theft rates, but DHS wants to use the system to keep tabs on law abiding citizens. Representative Sam Johnson (R-TX) said it succinctly during a hearing before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee by stating, “An agency responsible for tracking terrorists and securing our borders should not be keeping tabs on when and where U.S. citizens work. Yet the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is building databases and maintaining data on the work history of American citizens and American employers”

In other words, in order to start a new job, you’re going to have to be cleared by a law enforcement agency, and they’re going to be keeping track of your employment history. It may be 2008, but E-Verify looks a lot like 1984.

We’re supportive of having a system that helps prevent employing unauthorized workers and protecting employees, but that system must be effective, efficient, and reliable. E-Verify meets none of those criteria, and it is definitely not ready to be forced onto anyone, starting with government contractors. The NAM and our coalition partners in the HR Initiative for a Legal Workforce have been working to develop a better system for verifying an employee’s work status.  In the meantime, take a look at the proposed rule and send in comments.  They’re due by August 11

Heath Weems is the NAM’s Director of Education and Workforce Policy.

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