E-Verify, Another Name for Profiling

The need for comprehensive immigration reform has become even more pressing as immigrants face a hodgepodge of state and local legislative efforts and federal enforcement programs that vary from county to county.

Yet instead of leadership, we are left with rhetoric divorced from reality as conservatives pursue a mandatory “E-Verify” system to check work authorization.

House Republicans, led by Lamar Smith of Texas, are pushing a bill to obligate employers to use the program, part of an enforcement-only strategy to immigration policy that will prove costly in many ways.
E-Verify allows employers to use the Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security databases to check names and Social Security numbers against the I-9 forms that new employees must fill out.

The idea is to confirm whether applicants have authorization to work in the U.S.—no simple feat, given overlapping systems that contain millions of mistakes.

A range of forces, from unions to businesses to immigrants’ rights advocates to civil liberties lawyers, have resisted the program. They cite its built-in flaws and potential for discrimination against workers, documented and undocumented alike.

Smith's “Legal Workforce Act” is a direct attack on immigrant workers which will negatively impact millions of working people across the country, both those with papers and those without.

It's also comical in its hypocrisy.

At a time when Republicans are crying foul over federal spending and are pleading for smaller government, this proposal will cost the federal government billions to implement and billions more in lost tax revenue.

Apparently, when it comes to an immigrant witchhunt, Republicans are ready to spend, spend, spend.
Several groups, including the non-partisan National Immigrant Law Center have provided studies and reports showing the negative impact on all workers were such a system in place.

Some of the biggest issues:

Loss of billions in tax revenue amidst an ongoing economic crisis.

  • The Congressional Budget Office estimated that enforcing an E-Verify system would cost the public approximately $17 billion in lost tax revenue over a 10 year period due to undocumented workers leaving the tax system and being paid under the table by employers.
  • Additionally, just implementing the program could cost upwards of $23 billion over the next 10 years.
  • Hundreds of thousands of authorized workers (aka citizens and legal residents) will lose or risk losing their jobs due to a staggering error rate in the system.

  • It is estimated that in 2010 alone, at least 80,000 people lost their jobs due to E-Verify errors.
  • Approximately 770,000 more could lose their jobs if implementation happens at a federal level.


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    Millions of workers, including mostly those who are authorized, will be forced into paperwork hell in order to try and save their jobs (with no guarantee they can).

  • If E-Verify is required at a federal level, approximately 1.2 million U.S. citizens and work-authorized immigrants would have to contact agencies to fix database errors or risk losing their jobs.
  • The Government Accountability Office called any attempt to fix an E-Verify error “formidable.”
  • Millions of people authorized to work will be prevented from gaining employment due to errors that claim they are not authorized.

  • Because the proposed bill would require employers to pre-screen applicants, and because of the high error rate in the system, millions of people seeking employment might not get hired, or would be prevented from receiving a first paycheck.
  • Just like the restrictive and frankly racist laws passed recently in several states, the enforcement-only approach makes the tragically flawed assumption that documentation status is something easily and simply ascertained.

    Enforcement-only approaches have the effect of snaring all those who look or act “undocumented” regardless of their documentation status.

    For one member of the Arise-Chicago worker center, a naturalized citizen of the United States whose first language is Spanish, the consequences of “looking undocumented” have been significant.

    He works in the back of the house at a restaurant and fits the profile of what you might think of for an “undocumented” worker. For this member, as well as so many others in his situation, the consequences of fitting the profile means abuse, discrimination, and job loss.

    The restaurant he works at is a prestigious local chain, with locations in the city and the suburbs. In order to avoid paying overtime for employees working in multiple sites, one manager made all the “undocumented-looking” workers change their Social Security numbers in order to continue working.

    The Arise member complained, and was told to comply or be fired. He complied, and was caught changing his number and fired by the company’s main office.

    Fired for obeying a manager’s order, fired because the manager assumed he was just another “illegal” working in the kitchen of an expensive restaurant, where the price of a dinner is equal to the daily wage of the people washing dishes and scraping leftovers.

    So when you hear Representative Smith say, those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear, or when you hear others who “just want people to obey the law,” remember that member of Arise. Remember the reality of weak worker protections, uneven application of regulations, and the racist assumptions of law enforcement agents and bosses that makes life more complicated for millions of “obvious illegals.”

    Shelly Ruzicka and Jacob Lesniewski work for Arise Chicago worker center. Versions of this piece first appeared in Dignity at Work, Arise's blog.


davidbacon | 07/02/11

The real violation of labor and human rights by e-verify, as well as no-match letters and I-9 audits, is that they cause the firing of undocumented workers because of their immigration status. These are enforcement mechanisms for employer sanctions, the section of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 that criminalized work for the undocumented by prohibiting employers from hiring them. At its convention in Los Angeles in 1999, under pressure from local unions, labor councils and even many international unions, the AFL-CIO rejected its prior support for employer sanctions, and called for their repeal. The federation did this because sanctions violate human rights, and because they undermine the ability of undocumented workers to organize and defend labor rights and standards. We can't preach unity and then turn a blind eye when thousands of undocumented workers, including our own members, are fired because of their status. That is the situation we face right now, across this country.

There is no "fair" system for punishing employers for hiring undocumented workers that does not lead to the firing of those workers themselves. Even if there were no errors in the database, and they didn't catch up workers like the restaurant worker in this article, they would still lead to firing of thousands of undocumented people. E-Verify and sanctions enforcement should be opposed, not just because they catch citizen workers and visa holders in the net, but because of their impact on the undocumented themselves. With increased sanctions enforcement, millions of undocumented families will lose their jobs and homes. Many of their children in college will be forced to drop out. Local communities will suffer the loss of jobs, income and the tax base.

When the article refers to the "Enforcement-only approaches [that] have the effect of snaring all those who look or act “undocumented” regardless of their documentation status," it is repeating a theme we've heard many times from lobbyists in Washington. Those lobbyists have supported increased E-Verify and other enforcement measures, as part of comprehensive bills that also include guest worker programs and limited legalization. When they criticize the administration's "enforcement-only" approach, they're saying that they oppose enforcement without the other items in the Washington tradeoff. But many organizations, including the Dignity Campaign and many unions and workers centers, oppose increased enforcement, even as part of the tradeoff. They advocate, instead, an immigration reform based on human and labor rights, and building a social movement like the civil rights movement that can win those demands.