E-Verify: worker status with a click of a mouse
Arizona law requires employers to use federal database to determine employee eligibility.
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Though she had carefully checked the papers employees provided when she had hired them, Ms. Johnson recounts, some IDs turned out to be fakes. She lost 28 employees – more than half her workforce – in one day. The loss, she says, cost her business hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Today, she is thrilled to be using the federal E-Verify program, a Web-based system that combines databases of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Social Security Administration so that employers can electronically verify the employment eligibility of newly hired employees. She is among some 20,200 Arizona employers now turning to the program in compliance with a new state mandate: Use E-Verify to weed out undocumented workers or face losing your business license if caught "knowingly" hiring them.
Judging from the anecdotal experience of several employers here, the program is working as intended. E-Verify works pretty smoothly, they say, and they like having the US government verify employees' eligibility rather than trying to determine for themselves whether documents provided are legitimate. They also note that fewer undocumented workers are applying for jobs here, as more Arizona employers start using E-Verify.
Known formerly as the Basic Pilot Program, E-Verify was first developed in 1997 in the wake of a 1996 immigration reform law and was set up as a voluntary aid to companies. But in addition to Arizona, four states – Georgia, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Missouri – now mandate the use of E-Verify, according to Sheri Steisel, an immigration policy expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures in Washington. Legislation is pending in 13 additional states that would mandate public or private employers to verify the status of new hires using E-Verify.
"In the absence of the federal government coming to consensus on immigration reform and enforcement, states are left to try to do the best they can," Ms. Steisel says. "States are looking to other states and trying to tailor [legislation] to their own experience."
Since last July, when Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) signed the employer sanctions bill, the number of Arizona employers participating in E-Verify leapt from some 300 to 20,200 as of Feb. 23. Arizona employers make up about one-third of the firms who use E-Verify nationwide. Overall, participants in E-Verify rose from 14,000 a year ago to nearly 54,000 employers today. USCIS officials say that, on average, 1,000 more employers are signing up to use E-Verify each week.
Likely to affect the economy
Arizona won't begin prosecuting violators until March 1, so there's little hard evidence available to evaluate the effort so far. Civil libertarians and immigrant rights advocates have said the program could lead to widespread discrimination and is not as yet foolproof. Illinois, in fact, has prohibited its employers from using E-Verify until the system is improved.