The high cost of E-Verify

Now, the U.S. House of Representatives is advancing a bill that would require every employer in the country to use E-Verify without improving the system or giving employers enough time to adjust to its use. While the goal of the E-Verify system is to make sure that all employees have legal authorization to work, the errors in the system put at risk the jobs of thousands of U.S. citizen and work-eligible immigrant workers.

I am proof that E-Verify unfairly traps too many workers who have work authorization—both citizen and immigrant alike. And if it can happen to me, a U.S. citizen who was born in Florida, it can happen to anyone.

In November 2010, I landed what I thought would be an exciting job in the telecommunications industry. I filled out routine paperwork, and expected to get started right away.

ADVERTISEMENT
I was shocked when the company’s HR department told me that an electronic system had flagged me as unauthorized to work in the United States. I promptly went to the Social Security Office, where I was told that there was no problem. Little did I know that the error was an administrative one that involved E-Verify, a system that I—like most American workers--knew nothing about. By the time the error was corrected, it was too late – I was already out of a job.

I didn’t know what E-Verify was or why it existed, but I knew my life would be changed forever. I had to figure out why my name was flagged by a government computer, while I worried about how to explain my termination to a perspective new employer. Three months later and after suffering much stress, I got a lower paying job. The computer mistakes still haunt me because I now fear it could happen again, if I ever look for another job.

My name is not that complicated. But this painful administrative mistake got me thinking: how many other people might be caught in my situation and not even know it?

Currently, E-Verify is voluntary and only 7 percent of employers use it. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-TX, has a bill that would require the remaining 5.5 million employers to start using the system within two short years. The Smith bill also does not have a real solution for workers trying to correct a wrong finding by the system. Have you ever fought City Hall and won? Imagine how hard it is to fight a computer database in Washington.

The fast ramp up and the lack of protections for workers in the House bill means that thousands of people who are eligible to work would lose their jobs or have trouble getting hired, which is what happened to me.  And the Senate may make a similar mistake: it is considering changing its proposed E-Verify mandate to speed up its roll out and to water down its protections for workers.

Defenders of the E-Verify system say the error rate has gone down. But studies show that, if the bill passes and based on current error rates, between 416,000 and 1.2 million new hires each year could have their start dates delayed until the issues are resolved.

Here’s another point to remember: My former employer was large enough to have the human resources staff needed to administer this system. But here in Miami, and across the U.S., there are many small businesses that will struggle with this system because they lack the manpower to handle its extra requirements. I don’t remember the nearby auto shop or other neighborhood businesses having the computers needed to check the E-Verify database.

I was not the first person to lose my job because of a false finding from E-Verify and I won’t be the last. Wouldn’t it be better for the economy and for regular folks like me if Congress made sure the database was working properly before imposing it on all employers across the U.S.?

One job lost because of a computer error is one job too many.