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WebMemo #2332 on Immigration

March 9, 2009

E-Verify Expires: Time for Congress to Reauthorize the Program

By

On March 11, E-Verify will expire. This program gave employers a method by which to confirm the eligibility of employees to work in the U.S. Letting E-Verify expire was a mistake and a step backward in efforts to enforce America's immigration laws. Later today, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) will introduce an amendment to the Senate's version of the omnibus spending bill. This amendment would reauthorize the program for another five years, giving Congress the opportunity to avoid the mistake of letting this program expire. Congress should reauthorize E-Verify and support reforms that strengthen it and similar workplace enforcement programs.

Helping Employers Enforce the Law

E-Verify allows employers to confirm an employee's ability to legally work in the United States. An employer enters information provided by a prospective employee (from the I-9 form) into an online portal. The system then compares that data to information in Social Security Administration (SSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) databases. It then issues either a confirmation or a non-confirmation. Non-confirmations can be resolved if an employee can later prove that there was a discrepancy in the system. If it is not resolved, a final non-confirmation is issued and the employer is not allowed to hire the worker.

E-Verify has been a success. More than 80,000 employers participate in E-Verify, and the system has confirmed the identity of over 5.3 million workers. The program has been a success because it helps employers enforce immigration laws in a cheap and user-friendly fashion. For example, the software is free and requires very basic information-information already found on the I-9. Knowing beforehand that an employee can legally work also minimizes the cost of having to hire new employees later. And with an error rate of fewer than 4 percent, employers can comfortably rely on the program.

More Time for E-Verify

Given the benefits of E-Verify, it is vital that the program continues. Although the program will expire this week, Congress can still reauthorize E-Verify. Furthermore, Congress should strengthen E-Verify and similar workplace enforcement programs by doing the following:

  • Expand the IMAGE Initiative. The ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE) helps E-Verify companies-especially industries that deal with large numbers of unlawfully present workers-by providing audits, internal training, and protocols for responding to SSA "no match" letters. IMAGE participants receive recognition from DHS as a company employing "best practices" in workplace verification.
  • Improve the issuance of no-match letters and SSN no-match sharing. No-match letters sent to employers should include detailed guidance about the employer's legal obligations as well as steps that should be taken once it is discovered that an individual is a no-match. SSA must also share information with DHS, including granting DHS access to no-match queries and information regarding stolen SSNs.
  • Pilot a temporary workers program. America needs a temporary worker program that allows for a reliable and market-driven source of labor provided by a dynamic and rotating temporary workforce. Such a program would serve to diminish the demand for illegal immigrants by allowing those who would normally enter the country illegally to come here legally, make money, and then return home. Such a program would serve a dual purpose of enhancing U.S. national security while also serving the needs of the economy.
  • Reform the visa process and USCIS. Reforms are needed at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). USCIS needs to be a more efficient and effective partner in providing the immigration services and enforcement that the nation needs. These reforms include an entirely new USCIS funding model, a comprehensive overhaul of the agency's service support enterprise, and better integration of USCIS programs with immigration enforcement and border control efforts. USCIS also needs to streamline the visa programs already in place (such as those aimed at temporary or seasonal agricultural workers) to include other non-immigrant work visas.
  • Encourage state and local initiatives. Several states have made the use of E-Verify mandatory, which courts have found permissible. Congress and DHS should encourage efforts by state and local governments to control illegal immigration within their jurisdictions.

E-Verify helps responsible employers hire legal workers in an economically viable manner. It and other similar programs are the type of business-friendly and cost-effective programs that Congress should be supporting. Consequently, Congress should reauthorize and fully fund E-Verify.

Jena Baker McNeill is a homeland security policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation.

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