E-Verify Seen as Effective, but Improvements Still Needed

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E-Verify is an important tool to combat illegal immigration, and the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is committed to continuing to improve the program, speakers said at a Feb. 10 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee's Immigration Policy and Enforcement Subcommittee.

The hearing, the second in the 112th Congress to consider employment-related immigration issues, featured testimony from USCIS and Government Accountability Office officials about E-Verify's effectiveness and whether the program should be made mandatory for all U.S. employers. E-Verify is the federal government's electronic employment verification program.

E-Verify is an “effective program to help ensure jobs are reserved for citizens and legal workers,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said.

But House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) cautioned that “enforcement without reform will promote a race to the bottom that only hurts the American worker.”

“Mandating E-Verify alone without other reforms would drive workers into the underground economy,” Subcommittee Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) agreed.

About One in 10 Employers Participates.

Theresa Bertucci, associate director for the Enterprise Services Directorate at USCIS, which oversees E-Verify, testified about the increased use of E-Verify and improvements USCIS has made to the program.

Currently, more than 246,000 employers participate in the E-Verify program, representing more than 850,000 worksites, Bertucci said. More than 1,300 new employers enroll each week, she said.

There are about 7.7 million employers in the United States, and about 11 percent of them use E-Verify, she said.

GAO Highlighted Areas for Improvement.

Richard M. Stana, director of homeland security and justice at GAO, presented the findings of a December 2010 GAO report on E-Verify.

The report, which analyzed fiscal year 2009 E-Verify data, found that the program has improved substantially over the last several years, but several problems persist.

For example, USCIS has reduced tentative nonconfirmations (TNCs) for employees from 8 percent during the period of June 2004 through March 2007 to 2.6 percent in fiscal year 2009, Stana said. However, TNC problems remain for certain new hires because of inconsistent recording of employees' names and fraud and abuse in the system, he said.

“USCIS could better position employees to avoid an erroneous TNC by disseminating information to employees on the importance of providing consistent name information and how to record their names consistently,” Stana said.

In addition, USCIS must take steps to continue to combat identity theft and cases where unscrupulous employers assist unauthorized employees in “beating” the E-Verify system, he added.

Finally, Stana said while USCIS and the Social Security Administration have taken actions to prepare for a possible nationwide E-Verify mandate, the agencies “face challenges accurately estimating E-Verify costs” and obtaining funds to beef up the program in advance of such a mandate.

USCIS Working to Address Concerns.

“Of paramount concern to USCIS is making improvements to E-Verify to ensure that American workers are also protected while more and more employers use the program,” Bertucci said.

According to Smith, the most pervasive problem with E-Verify relates to identity theft. “If an employee provides an employer with a stolen Social Security number and matching identification information, E-Verify will determine that the Social Security number is one that is work eligible,” Smith explained.

USCIS has taken steps to address the identity theft problem by creating a photo-matching tool that allows an employer to view a picture of the employee “from a green card, an employment authorization document, or a passport,” to determine that the employee is in fact the person to whom the identification document was issued, Smith said.

Bertucci presented an overview of additional steps USCIS has taken to improve E-Verify, including enhancing the E-Verify website, introducing a self-check function for employees to confirm their information in E-Verify, and establishing a monitoring and compliance program to monitor E-Verify use and ensure employers are using the system properly.

In addition, Bertucci said USCIS is working with an independent research firm to study the impact of name and date of birth mismatches on TNCs. The study will be completed in the third quarter of fiscal year 2011, and the findings will be used to develop “better name-matching algorithms and provide enhanced assistance to users,” she said.

“USCIS is poised to meet the challenges that accompany the growth of E-Verify and the needs of customers who use and will use the program,” Bertucci said.

Conyers Argues Against Stand-Alone Mandate.

Meanwhile, Conyers argued that an enforcement only approach--like mandating E-Verify without other changes such as an earned pathway to legalization for the undocumented workers already in the United States--will “not diminish the demand for willing workers.”

Instead, such an approach “pushes undocumented workers further into the shadows,” making them “more susceptible to abuse and exploitation which drives down wages and working conditions for all workers, citizen and noncitizen alike,” he said.

Conyers also pointed out that the Congressional Budget Office estimated that mandatory E-Verify without other immigration changes “will suck $17.3 billion out of our federal tax revenues,” because millions of workers who are currently on the books and paying payroll taxes will move into the underground economy.

Several immigrant rights groups responded to the hearing Feb. 10, issuing statements against making E-Verify mandatory without addressing the undocumented workers already in the United States.

Marissa Graciosa, coordinator of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, said the intent of the hearing and Republican efforts to expand E-Verify is to “scapegoat” immigrants for the current high unemployment in America. “Fixing the economy is hard work that requires a level of imagination and creativity they haven't shown, so they've fixed their sights on a false solution that will win them style points with their base but will worsen the economic picture,” she said in a Feb. 10 statement.

By Amber McKinney

The December 2010 GAO E-Verify report and Bertucci's written testimony, respectively, can be accessed at http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/r?Open=amky-8dxuzq and http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/r?Open=amky-8dxuyt. Stana's written testimony is available at http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/r?Open=amky-8dxuz7.