The Electronic Employment Verification System (E-Verify)

The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) policy of sending “No-Match” letters to employers whose employees’ names and corresponding Social Security numbers do not match the agency’s records is emblematic of a broken immigration system that may operate in a theoretical world, but fails miserably in the real one. The policy makes no allowance for critical weaknesses in the system, including the SSA’s inaccurate and out-of-date database, nor does it address the impact of erroneous firings on legal workers, which gravely affects not only the workers but their children. Even when the records are correct, the policy does not actually resolve the problem of unauthorized workers, who will move elsewhere when denied permission to work.

The Electronic Employment Verification System, better known as EEVS or E-Verify, is a voluntary program run by the Department of Homeland Security along with the Social Security Administration that confirms an employee’s legal status to work. Unfortunately, President Bush has called for all federal contractors to be certified through the program in an executive order that ignores several concerns about the system. Many employees are erroneously labeled as unauthorized workers due to the out-of-date and inaccurate database that the program relies upon. By the SSA’s own estimates, E-Verify has a high error rate: 10% of the records for newly naturalized citizens are inaccurate, and nearly 13 million records of U.S.-born citizens are affected as well. Workers have been refused work for months due to computer error, a difficult and potentially devastating position for them and their families in these times of economic uncertainty.

MALDEF President and General Counsel John Trasviña has testified before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on the Social Security Administration to highlight the discriminatory nature of the program. Coupled with the lack of funding for the Social Security Administration and record backlogs for disability benefits, visas, and citizenship applications, updating the E-Verify program will only further strain the administration’s workload.

Despite the well-documented problems with E-Verify, some states are moving to require its use by employers. MALDEF believes that broadening the impact of E-Verify before its database flaws are fixed will create more long-term problems than it will solve.

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Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund