E-Verify Hurts the Workforce It’s Meant to Protect

This week, the administration enacted a policy which makes E-Verify mandatory for all government contractors and subcontractors, including those who receive stimulus funds.  The policy applies not just to new hires, but to current employees as well, even those who have put in years of service.  This policy along with other E-Verify agreements already in place in private industry puts American workers and legally authorized workers at risk of losing their jobs through no fault of their own.  In the bleakest economic climate in a generation, the administration’s E-Verify policy has given workers yet another hurdle to clear:  a flawed, bureaucratic system.

E-Verify has been plagued with problems, including a failure to identify legally authorized workers due to its reliance on the error-ridden databases of the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  Discrepancies between workers' social security numbers and SSA records can result from many innocent factors, including simple human error.  The data error rates in both SSA and DHS files concerning work-eligible U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and visa holders are well-documented.

The SSA’s own Inspector General found that more than 70 percent of the discrepancies in the SSA database, upon which E-Verify relies, that could generate a “no match” letter belong to native-born U.S. citizens.   Up to this point this problem has been partially masked by the fact that workers who received an initial non-confirmation could find different employment with a non-E-Verify employer.

Although the E-Verify program is meant as an immigration enforcement tool, it does little to decrease undocumented immigration.  Instead, it will fuel the growth of off-the-books hiring by employers who may prefer to skip W-2 forms and instead pay employees with cash and as a result, sidestep basic workers’ protections. Sanctions will not eradicate a two-tier labor market that pushes undocumented immigrant workers into a shadowy world of low wages, employer harassment, and nonexistent labor protections. It will simply push undocumented workers further underground, continuing a race to the bottom in terms of wages for all workers, including the American middle class and those who hope to join it.