The Corner

What E-Verify Has in Store

One key reform that has come under scrutiny in the Gang of Eight immigration bill is the “E-Verify” system, which currently allows employers to check the legal status of job applicants.

Under the proposal, the E-Verify system would be made universal and mandatory. In other words, employers will be required to upload documentation for every new employee and to use a massive government-managed database to check their legal status. Even though the system should correctly identify undocumented workers, it has the makings of a potential bureaucratic nightmare.

As Steve Chapman describes it:

[E-Verify] may sound simple and painless for anyone who is here legally, and usually it is. But not always. In 2011, the federal Government Accountability Office reported that about one in every 400 submissions results in an erroneous disqualification.

Emily Tulli, an attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, estimates that in 2012, based on the apparent error rate, “160,000 workers had to contact a government agency to fix a database error or risk losing their jobs.” Once every new employee has to go through E-Verify, the number will multiply.

The appeal process already takes weeks, and when universalized, an entire new legal architecture will need to be established to deal with a flood of legitimate and illegitimate appeals. This will inevitably delay legal workers from being hired — leaving workers unpaid and small businesses understaffed. When a business can’t afford to wait any longer, it will simply start rejecting the applications of qualified, legal workers.

There are other problems with the E-Verify system, which economist John Cochrane expects to be riddledwith unintended consequences:

The only way to get around the E-Verify system would be to make the worker fully illegal. So, rather than have a worker with illegal immigration status, but in the social security system and withholding taxes, we would move to an under-the-table cash economy.  And once the company moved to accommodate some illegal workers, why not avoid taxes, regulations, health insurance penalties, and all the rest of it by paying the Americans in cash as well?

But setting all those economic problems aside, Professor Cochrane reflects on the ongoing IRS scandal and wonders if we can trust the government to approve every single job application.

Surely, it will never happen that e-verify agents target selected groups for more careful scrutiny or slow processing, because they might want to vote one way or another, or because they have expressed unpopular opinions? Surely employers with unpopular political opinions have nothing to fear here? . . .

Surely, Congress will never expand the system to make sure anyone who gets a job has paid up their health insurance, paid their taxes, and changed their lightbulbs to the new low-energy mandates? Surely, Congress and the agency will never use the system to deny the right to work to people accused of “hate speech” or other unpopular exercises of first-amendment privileges?

Surely not, Professor Cochrane. The Leviathan would never use sensitive, personal information, collected by an “independent” agency, to promote a political agenda . . . right?

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