By Tony Romm - 02/25/10 05:02 PM EST
An Internet-based program that checks employees' immigration status only catches illegal workers about half of the time, according to a little-noticed report.
That dismally low success rate could spell trouble for the White House's much-touted E-Verify system, a Department of Homeland Security program in place at thousands of companies across the country.
Consequently, the system's inaccuracy rate for catching unauthorized workers towered at 54 percent, according to the study, released in December but only first discovered by reporters on Thursday.
However, E-Verify did correctly clear legal workers about 99 percent of the time, the study concluded.
Nevertheless, federal officials were quick to stress on Thursday that they were already making key upgrades to the E-Verify system, which former President George W. Bush began expanding in 2008.
"The Westat report shows that E-Verify's accuracy continues to improve, with the vast majority of all cases automatically found to be work-authorized," explained Bill Wright, a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
Among those leading the charge for reform is Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who told The Associated Press that Westat's report only underscores the immigration system's inadequacies.
"This is a wake-up call to anyone who thinks E-Verify is an effective remedy to stop the hiring of illegal immigrants," Schumer said.