Computer Error: The E-Verify Debacle
Last week, Reps. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Elton Gallegly (R-CA), and Steve King (R-IA), unveiled their new anti-immigration plan: to mandate that all employers in America use the online verification system known as E-Verify to check the immigration status of their employees. Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia have an E-Verify mandate in place. The idea is that if all American employers use E-Verify, undocumented workers will no longer be able to find work in the United States, and so will essentially deport themselves.
The reality of E-Verify is that it is a deeply flawed system that will negatively impact the American workers, businesses, and taxpayers it was designed to protect. The E-Verify database’s error rate is unacceptably high. In fiscal year 2010, it is estimated that over 80,000 workers lost their jobs due to E-Verify mistakes – and the system had barely been rolled out. If made compulsory on the national level, we could be looking at 770,000 people mistakenly losing their jobs, and 1.3 million people a year blocked from getting new ones due to computer error. And what are those people suppose to do when they are mistakenly rejected? They’re forced to navigate the overburdened Social Security Administration, an organization that turned away 3.3 million visitors to its offices in 2010.
The Department of Homeland Security estimates it would have to spend $765 million on staff, technology and training if the program were to go national. According to a recent Bloomberg Government think-tank report, a mandatory E-Verify program will cost small businesses $2.6 billion dollars. For noncompliance, an employer’s business license is suspended for the first offense and revoked for the second. For American businesses, E-verify is both unfair and draconian. Plus, many argue that it won’t actually keep employers from hiring undocumented immigrants, but rather force them to work around the system, moving further into an unregulated cash economy.
Mandating the E-Verify program simply won’t fix America’s broken immigration system. It’s likely it won’t even catch half of the undocumented immigrants currently working in the US, and will penalize many others who have done nothing wrong. According to the government’s own statistics, E-Verify currently only correctly identifies 46% of those undocumented individuals it checks. The other half – 54% – make it through. With a failure rate of over 50% and a hefty price tag, the costs and unintended consequences of the program are simply too great. It’s time to move towards a comprehensive immigration overhaul and away from punitive stop-gap measures that help neither America’s citizens nor America’s economy.