Fatal Flaws: Social Security Administration Shows Us How E-Verify Doesn’t Work

Written by on January 15, 2010 in Employment and Wages, Enforcement, Interior Enforcement, Reform with 5 Comments


The E-Verify website claims that the process for verifying whether workers are authorized for employment in the United States is simple. The practices of the Social Security Administration (SSA), the agency that jointly administers E-Verify with the Department of Homeland Security, tell a different story. According to a report released this month by the SSA Inspector General, though required by law, the agency failed to use E-Verify on nearly 20 percent of their new hires. The report documenting SSA’s myriad mishaps is proof of what workers’ rights advocates have long believed: E-Verify is still not ready for widespread use.

SSA not only failed to use the electronic system in a large percentage of their own hires, but improperly ran checks on 169 volunteers and individuals who had not yet been hired and violated program rules with respect to the timing of its verifications 49 percent of the time. These actions are in direct violation of the law and would have disastrous consequences if mimicked on a national scale.

Like its predecessor Basic Pilot, E-Verify is an electronic employment verification program that attempts to instantly determine whether a new hire is authorized to work in the United States. Unfortunately, this system is riddled with errors that can prevent U.S. citizens and work-authorized immigrants from securing employment. Furthermore, the SSA report shows that improper use of the program can and does occur with alarming frequency.

E-Verify is also susceptible to abuse and misuse by employers who violate program rules. A government-sponsored study, for example, found that 22 percent of employers restricted work assignments, 16 percent delayed job training, and 2 percent reduced pay based on database errors. This can be particularly devastating for foreign-born workers, who have encountered an E-Verify error rate of nearly ten percent. At a time when our unemployment rates hover in the double digits, we need to strengthen workers rights and access to jobs, not impose additional roadblocks.

These problems will be felt deeply by the states and localities that are increasingly adopting mandatory E-Verify laws to “look tough” on immigration. In Arizona, which enacted such a law, use of E-Verify has led to significant hardship for employers and workers alike. A 2008 survey of 376 immigrant workers in Arizona found that 33.5 percent had been fired, apparently because of E-Verify database errors, but that none had been notified by employers that they had the right to appeal the finding

Excessive verification systems that keep authorized workers and citizens out of jobs will harm our economy when we can least afford it. Rather than expand a program that cannot be administered properly by those charged with monitoring it, SSA should work with Congress on creating a system in which workers’ jobs and rights are protected and promoted.

*Tyler Moran is Policy Director at the National Immigration Law Center.



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  • I am both a supporter of immigration rights and of E-Verify. The apparent fact that it is being misused by some and not used at all by others is no reason to discard the system. No program performs flawlessly, particularly at first. Workers who report misuse or abuse can find help through their local Immigrant
    Resource Center or equivalent. Employers who abuse or fail to use E-Verify should be fined or otherwise penalized. That’s the purpose of the program. Arizona took the step of enforcing E-Verify, and then passed HB 2779 that assures any employer who voluntarily enrolls in the program that they will not be subject to sanctions…what’s the point?

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  • Shawn

    Let’s face it: where I come from, anything over 60% is passing. Compliance is close to 80% (let’s look at the POSITIVE) on this. It should give us cause to TRY HARDER, NOT to give up!!!!

  • Captain H Frith,II

    Let’s SEE how e-Verify is ACTUALLY in practice among millions of tax filers annually: Try this as an experiment:: file your 1040 electronically, but intentionally misspell your last name. What do you suppose happens? The IRS rejects the return providing ERROR CODE 500, mismatched name and SSN. Now resend it with the correct spelling. What do you suppose will happen? NOTHING HAPPENS!! Why? Because your tax returned was e-Verified. SEE… we already use e-Verify.
    Now, suppose a tax filer hasn’t updated their name with SSA and eFiles a tax return. What happens: CODE 500 happens. He has to go over to a SSA office and correct his file. SEE… we already have -Verify.


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