Critics -- including business and labor groups and civil libertarians -- say that the system remains fraught with error and could lead to wrongful layoffs. They say it encourages discrimination against workers who appear foreign and promotes more under-the-table hiring. "We have not taken the effort to go through and fix the errors in people's files before we use this as an enforcement tool," said Timothy Sparapani, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. "Until we do, this system will be nothing more than a fanciful wish."
Now, it’s much more than that. An estimated 170,000 employers currently use the system, with more than 1,200 more signing up every week. The widespread abuses that critics warned against have not materialized. And yet, most of the companies signing up are doing it because they have to—though the system remains voluntary for most companies, it is mandatory in some areas and for any company contracting with the federal government.
The Department of Homeland Security recently debuted “I E-Verify,” a program aimed at promoting its use. Though the growth of E-Verify is impressive, the government clearly is disappointed that more employers haven’t voluntarily signed on, and at the heart of the “I E-Verify” is an attempt to calm HR nerves about using it:
Director Alejandro Mayorkas to announce a trio of initiatives to strengthen the efficiency and accuracy of the E-Verify system.These initiatives include a new agreement with the Department of Justice that will streamline the adjudication process in cases of E-Verify misuse and discrimination; an informational telephone hotline for employees to provide a more timely, effective and seamless customer experience for workers seeking E-Verify information; and new training videos focusing on E-Verify procedures and policies, employee rights and employer responsibilities in English and Spanish.
It’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t seem to have arisen in the first place. So why are so many companies giving E-Verify the cold shoulder? Eric Ledbetter has a thorough analysis of employer fears.
Ledbetter warns that since the system doesn’t actually replace the traditional method of verifying citizenship, the Form I-9, E-Verify puts an extra burden on employers, both in terms of cost and effort. Though the federal databases can be accessed free of charge, training, set-up and supervision are taxing HR resources.
And there are legal issues:
[Another] problem with E-Verify is its potential for creating unintended privacy and discrimination violations. Employers that use E-Verify are under various federal and state obligations to safeguard the data contained on the Form I-9 and in the E-Verify databases. Once an employer enrolls in E-Verify, it must make certain that employees with access to the company’s E-Verify account are properly trained and supervised so as not to use it at the wrong time, for the wrong purpose or on the wrong person. A poorly trained or poorly supervised HR worker can create significant liability for a company through misuse of the E-Verify system. Employers are also obligated by anti-discrimination laws to treat all similarly situated employees alike and not to ask employees for more documentation than is legally required. The use of E-Verify may create certain situations that are likely to lead well-meaning employers into trouble because of the problem of false negatives.
None of this means there aren’t plenty of reasons to use E-Verify, but it may take more than a promotional campaign to convince skeptical companies.