Forbes: What to do About E-Verify?

Immigration reform now seems all but inevitable, not just according to the conventional wisdom in Washington – which is not always reliable – but to the President’s senior advisors, who told the New York Times that Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats will be launching a comprehensive reform bill in the very near future – perhaps as early as February. [See Obama Will Seek Citizenship Path in One Fast Push, by Julia Preston, New York Times, 12.Jan.2013.]

According to the Times, the President’s reform package is expected to “impose nationwide verification of legal status for all newly hired workers,” essentially some form of E-Verify mandate. E-Verify, you will recall, is the web-based system that allows businesses to check the employment eligibility of prospective new hires, to ensure they have work authorization.

Though E-Verify is a worthy effort to bring the I-9 verification system into the digital era, it has many detractors, including civil libertarians whose main concern is its impact on privacy, and businesses that question the system’s reliability and integrity, and worry about the cost of compliance if E-Verify is mandated nationwide. Their concerns about the system’s reliability are not unfounded. According to a recent Forbes article, a government audit of E-Verify determined that 1.2 million to 3.5 million legal employees would be falsely deemed ineligible to work, if the use of E-Verify becomes a federal requirement. [See E-Verify: Immigration Reform’s Threat to Legal Workers, by David Bier,, 10.Jan.2013.] According to Forbes, “the government’s numbers also project 770,000 erroneous final non-confirmations (FNCs), which require employers to fire the worker.”

The article also cites a 2009 audit, finding that around 50 percent of unauthorized hires “slipped through” the screening process. A further objection is the cost of compliance, including the costs of training and staff time: a $2.7 billion hit to U.S. businesses, according to a 2011 estimate. Before Congress and the administration plow ahead with a national E-Verify mandate, they would be well advised to reform the existing system.

A more accurate database would be a good place to start – but the reforms shouldn’t end there. If Congress can make the entire I-9 system less burdensome to comply with, a national E-Verify mandate would be more palatable to the business community.

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