Today the Senate Immigration Subcommittee held a hearing addressing electronic employment verification. While today’s hearing acknowledged that employment verification is an important element of comprehensive immigration reform, serious questions remain about how a mandatory employment verification system should be designed. Today’s momentum building must be paired with serious analysis of the many serious issues involved with a large, mandatory employment verification system.

While employment verification is viewed as an immigration enforcement tool, it is a program that affects every person working in the U.S.—including U.S. citizens. Before moving forward, several things must be addressed:

  • Every effort must be made to ensure that the data used to verify work authorization is accurate.
  • We must make sure that all workers are able to obtain the information and documentation needed to prove their identity and work authorization.
  • A complaint and redress process must be created for workers who are negatively affected by the system. Workers must be able to seek compensation from the government in the case that an error in a government database results in termination of employment.
  • Significant community outreach and education must be included to inform both employers and workers about how the system works, their rights and responsibilities under the new system, and avenues for redress in the case of error or unfair employment practices.
  • Strong privacy protections must be put in place as well as penalties for misuse of the data.
  • Finally, sufficient resources must be made available to properly implement a large new employment verification system.

Unfortunately many people still believe that electronic employment verification is a straight forward and simple solution to the problem of unauthorized work in the U.S. However, years of experience with employer sanctions, the I-9 system, and the E-Verify program have proven that the devil is in the details, and that even the best intentions can result in harmful consequences for some people.

Furthermore, no employment verification system alone can resolve the problems created by our broken immigration system. A mandatory employment verification system must be part of comprehensive immigration reform which requires undocumented immigrants to legalize their status and creates legal pathways for future workers to come to the U.S. to work.