E-Verify service draws praise and criticism
By Mark Wineka
Ron Woodard sometimes advises people who suspect an employer is using illegal immigrants to call the Internal Revenue Service.
Most whistleblowers contact the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office through its tip line. But Woodard says ask the IRS to conduct an audit of the company, because the federal government is always concerned when enough taxes aren’t being paid.
Otherwise, Woodard has become a champion of E-Verify, a Web-based system that verifies the employment eligibility of new hires.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services oversees the mostly volunteer program.
President George Bush recently issued an executive order mandating the use of E-Verify by any company bidding on federal contracts.
It allows an employer to compare employee information taken from Form I-9 (which is supposed to be filled out for all new hires) against 425 million records in the Social Security Administration’s database and more than 60 million records in the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration databases.
The federal government touts E-Verify as the best means available for determining employment eligibility of new hires and the validity of their Social Security numbers. But the program has its detractors.
Tony Asion, executive director of El Pueblo Inc. in Raleigh, says the Web-based system is not reliable and doesn’t have the capacity it should.
He questions calls for all employers to depend on a system that is not fail-safe. It could prove wrong and detrimental not just to Latinos but to all other Americans applying for jobs, he says.
“We should not rush to do something that will create more problems,” he adds. Asion has doubts, too, on the appeals process for workers who know they are legitimate but are coughed out by E-Verify anyway.
“People are out there saying we need less government, but this is like a police state,” Asion says. “I don’t know if this was the way we were supposed to be.”
Mai Thi Nguyen, an assistant professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wrote in a May report that with recent workplace raids for undocumented workers and the emerging threat of lawsuits, employers in North Carolina are aware of the consequences for hiring undocumented workers.
“The vast majority of employers follow legal procedures for checking documentation,” she wrote, “but they are not experts in detecting false identification, nor do they have the capacity to check the validity of Social Security numbers. That is left up to the federal government.”
The number of illegal immigrants in North Carolina is thought to be approaching 500,000, though a 2005 figure from the Department of Homeland Security put the number at 370,000.
Nguyen says it’s a myth that the majority of Latinos in North Carolina are illegal. A 2004 UNC-Chapel Hill report said 41.4 percent were born in the United States, making them citizens. An additional 13.6 percent had visas or were naturalized citizens, leaving 45 percent undocumented.
With employers, the most commonly offered documents for identification include Social Security cards and driver’s licenses. But employers cannot mandate what documents are provided.
The Charlotte Mayor’s Immigration Study Commission said, “The law requires them to accept any facially valid document or documents from a long menu of documents.
“Employers who comply with the record-keeping provisions … argue they should not be held accountable if an employee’s documents are subsequently determined by a government agency to be improper.
“The issue is more complicated when the concept of contracting is introduced, and determining what, if any, responsibility a business has to ensure the workers are properly documented by a firm being contracted.”
For several years, legislation has been introduced in the N.C. General Assembly to require all employers in the state to use the federal E-Verify program, which began as a pilot program in 1997.
House Bill 2610 and its companion, Senate Bill 2002, have once again languished in committee this legislative session.
Woodard, who heads NC Listen, a non-profit organization involved in immigration reform, blames the Democratic leadership for making sure the bills stay in committee.
The leadership sees illegal immigrants as voters who can help Democratic candidates, Woodard charges.
The proposed legislation also would further in trying to identify illegal workers.
It would set up a complaint form to be filed with the Attorney General and call on that office or county attorneys to investigate those suspicions.
“When investigating a complaint,” the bill says, “the Attorney General or county attorney shall verify the work authorization of the alleged unauthorized alien with the federal government.”
The bill sets out a penalties and a process for notifying ICE. It also calls for an $83,000 appropriation to hire a full-time attorney in the Attorney General’s office to assist in implementing the program.
Woodard says using E-Verify to check a new hire’s status takes less than a minute. Someone denied by the federal system has the right to contest the results, and he can continue to work if that’s the case, Woodard says.
But if you’re legal, you’d want to have that straightened out so it wouldn’t bite you later, he says.
“The intent is not to disenfranchise anyone but to protect jobs in America,” Woodard adds.
He contends that the only part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement that is properly staffed is the E-Verify program, and he thinks ICE can resolve appeals quickly.
Employers can come up with “13 different reasons”why they don’t have the necessary documents when ICE makes spot checks of work sites, Woodard says. That would not happen if every employer started with E-Verify.
“If you’re audited and have that piece of paper, you’re covered,” he says. “Either you checked a person, or you didn’t.”
The state has a plan to borrow $857 million for state construction projects that would create 20,000 jobs, Woodard notes.
“Isn’t it fair to ask how many of those jobs will go to illegal immigrants unless state legislation is passed and E-Verify required?” he said.