For years, many policy experts and advocates have opposed various schemes to expand electronic employment authorization verification (E-verify) on the grounds that the system is error-prone, too expensive, costly to businesses, has civil liberties implications, and—most importantly—cannot be done outside a comprehensive immigration reform scheme. Even as successive administrations sought to improve the quality of the system, the last argument remained insurmountable, tied as it was to the very real concern that outside the context of a plan to legalize 11 million unauthorized immigrants, mandatory E-verify was nothing but a veiled deportation mechanism, forcing potentially millions more workers into removal proceedings.
As expected, the new comprehensive immigration reform legislation released by the Gang of 8 makes a mandatory E-verify program a central part of its interior enforcement, arguing that we must have a sophisticated, technologically savvy way to verify work authorization, especially as we create a new system of Registered Provisional Immigrants who will be able to participate without fear that they will be removed. But how valid are the other concerns regarding accuracy, privacy, redress mechanisms, and impact on other systems like Social Security or the states?
It appears that the proposed expansion, which would be phased in over five years, offers more protections than past proposals, even those made in the context of earlier comprehensive reform bills. For instance, there are no specific accuracy requirements in the bill, yet there are
several reporting requirements that will force the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine the accuracy of the system. The bill requires DHS to come up with a way to notify workers of a confirmation or nonconfirmation directly in addition to notification through the employer, but seems a bit vague on what happens if they fail to comply. It also offers important protections for workers, such as the ability to contest erroneous findings, to view their records in E-verify and correct them, and to seek redress through the courts if they are wrongfully prevented from working. The bill also expands privacy protections to limit the use of any documents to work verification itself and requires privacy audits.
These changes should go some way in assuaging the concerns of those who have opposed mandatory E-verify for legitimate reasons in the past. It may be that we are now in a position to have a more rigorous and thorough debate about the merits of this system itself.
Have we gone so far down the road with E-verify that it is the method of choice, regardless of whether better systems are out there?
Can we afford to move to something else?
Do we simply have to make E-verify the best it can be?