Why Everyone Should Fear E-Verify

Why Everyone Should Fear E-Verify

July 13, 2012
Originally published in The Huffington Post

"The only people who have to be afraid of the E-Verify system are illegal aliens and the employers who hire them." That was Pennsylvania House Committee Chairman Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) who has proposed a new bill that would mandate the use of the controversial employment verification program. But Metcalfe is wrong--all Pennsylvanians should fear E-Verify, which has caused numerous problems for lawful citizens and businessmen in every state that has implemented it.

While I-9 forms allow the federal government to investigate suspicious businesses only after the fact, Metcalfe's bill adopts a "guilty until proven innocent" approach to employment. Legal workers must prove they are eligible before they can be hired. If they are not approved, they must spend their own time and effort to fix the system's error, or they cannot be hired.

According to a major 2009 audit of E-Verify by Weststat, almost one percent of legal workers were originally given a tentative nonconfirmation (TNC) by E-Verify. One percent might sound like a small amount, but in a working population of several million, it would still represent tens of thousands of errors each year for Pennsylvania employers and employees to sort out. Just imagine the bureaucratic costs this would impose--not to mention the time and expense wasted by innocent Pennsylvanians.

The results for individual employers are often much worse than what Weststat found. When Intel began to use E-Verify back in 2008, for example, over 12 percent weren't authorized. "All of Intel's TNC's have ultimately been cleared by E-Verify as work authorized," they wrote to the General Services Administration, "but only after significant investment of time and money, lost productivity and, for our affected foreign national staff, many hours of confusion, worry and upset."

Arizona, which mandated E-Verify in 2007, has seen similar cases. TNCs were issued, for example, to 14 percent of the employees of MCL Enterprises, a 24 restaurant Burger King franchise, including a full 75 percent of its foreign workers. Ordinary citizens have been affected as well. Arizona resident Juan Carlos, for instance, who became a citizen in 2000 was given a TNC because the State Department never notified the Social Security Administration of his change in status. He had to pay over $400 to get a new naturalization certificate to clear his name.

E-Verify's flipside is employer sanctions that include fines and license suspensions. Despite this threat, both Arizona and Alabama, who has also mandated E-Verify, have found it extremely difficult to get businesses to sign up. In April, 67,000 businesses missed Alabama's enrollment deadline. Recognizing the chaos it would cause to audit this many businesses, the state has promised to be a "safe harbor" to these employers, working with them to implement the mandate. This month, Georgia had to offer a similar amnesty to local municipalities who failed to use E-Verify for government contractors.

Arizona has had the same problem. Barely a third of Arizona's 100,000 businesses signed up for E-Verify in its first two years. If thousands of employers are unable to comply with the mandate despite legal threats, it warrants serious consideration. Moreover, while E-Verify was supposed to protect employers from prosecution by making employment verification easier, it has failed at this as well. After the Chinese restaurant P.F. Changs began using E-Verify, it was still sanctioned for hiring workers who managed to beat the computer. It was forced to close eight stores in Arizona, costing the state even more jobs.

For all this trouble, E-Verify fails even its intended purpose. According to Weststat, more than half of undocumented workers are cleared by the system. Even those the system does reject shouldn't be construed as a success, for rather than forcing all these workers out of the state, E-Verify simply forces them out of the formal economy and into the black market. Pennsylvania may actually lose as much tax revenue as proponents claim it will save in social services.

Nonetheless, many workers have fled Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia because of these laws. But rather than benefiting their economies as supporters had hoped, it has devastated them. The University of Alabama found that losing forty to eighty thousand workers reduced the state's GDP by $2.3 to $10.8 billion and cut state income and sales tax collections by as much as $264.5 million. In Arizona, some estimates have placed the economic damage at $48.8 billion. Georgia has seen so many crops rot in the fields that the governor turned to convicts for labor.

That E-Verify puts bureaucracy directly between employees and employers and costs the federal government $100 million a year should make conservatives like Metcalfe suspicious from the outset. Metcalfe has claimed that he was "Tea Party before it was cool," yet more than two dozen free-market and Tea Party groups have come out against E-Verify. In a letter to Congress, the coalition wrote that "E-Verify poses a threat to both the Constitution and every law-abiding citizen of this country." So much for only "illegal aliens and their employers" being afraid.