by Sophia Elson
Earlier today, there was a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on whether all employers nationwide should be required to use the employment verification system E-Verify to investigate the backgrounds of each new employee they hire.
The hearing was erroneously titled "How E-Verify Works and How it Benefits American Employers and Workers." As it turns out, mandatory implementation of E-Verify would be disastrous for both of those groups, forcing employers to navigate a costly and time-intensive bureaucratic system and threatening the security of highly sensitive employee data.
As the letter states, “Congress can and should address illegal immigration without sacrificing Americans’ privacy or imposing the costs of immigration enforcement on small businesses and workers.”
There are many problems with the E-Verify system as it stands.
- Database errors will force legal workers to visit federal offices to appeal for the right to work. An April 2011 report (PDF) issued by the Government Accountability Office about the current voluntary E-Verify program noted that tentative nonconfirmation (TNC) errors “continue to occur, in part, because of inaccuracies and inconsistencies in how personal information is recorded on employee documents, in government databases, or both.” These errors will disproportionately affect minority groups, including young workers, married women, naturalized citizens, legal immigrants, and individuals with multiple surnames.
- The size and openness of the database will endanger sensitive data, such as Social Security numbers, and could in fact exacerbate the problem of identity theft by increasing the market for false identification documents. And as Amy Peck of the I-9 and E-Verify Blog pointed out, attempts to curtail employment identity theft through photo matching have fallen short: “Despite the expansion of the photo matching process (which now applies to EADs, green cards and US passports), identity and employer fraud remain problematic.”
- There is the potential for mission creep, and for E-Verify systems adopted today to be used for a range of additional purposes over time, from issuing prescription drugs to travel identification. As Cato’s Jim Harper argues, “There is no reason why a system created for immigration control would not be converted to other purposes, of course. Electronic verification could be used to find wanted murderers by requiring E-Verify checks everywhere from bus depots to liquor stores. Nationally mandated E-Verify would move quickly down the scale of uses to enforcement of unpaid parking tickets and “use taxes,” just to name two examples.”
The coalition letter recommends a number of amendments that would greatly reduce the harm a mandatory E-Verify system would cause, but even with those amendments, national implementation of E-Verify is a very bad idea. Flawed at its core, the system promotes unnecessary data collection on a large scale and threatens businesses and legal workers with a bureaucratic labyrinth they do not have time for.
EFF stands with the ACLU, Cato Institute, and many concerned civil liberties organizations in urging Congress to take a stand against this harmful proposal.