In a recent speech to the GOP faithful, Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney held up Arizona’s immigration control program, which relies heavily on a public database called E-Verify, as the model for the nation. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens during public discussions, it made for a better sound bite than a practical plan.
Romney told the crowd “I think you see a model in Arizona. They passed a law here that says -- that says that people who come here and try and find work, that the employer is required to look them up on E-Verify”, the database that would allow employers to determine the immigration status of applicants. He cited a reported 14% drop in the number of illegal immigrants in Arizona as proof it worked.
If elected, he promised to export the Arizona model to the nation at large: “I will make sure we have an E-Verify system and require employers to check the documents of workers, and to check E- Verify." Mr. Romney did not have command of all the relevant facts, however. The E-Verify database only checks the names on documents for employment eligibility. No effort is made to check on the authenticity of the documents themselves.
If the documents presented are forged, the entire logic of E-Verify breaks down. Illegal immigrants with stolen identities will easily circumvent the checks because that identity they assume does have legal status. In short, E-Verify will only catch the low-hanging fruit from illegal immigrants. Those even slightly more sophisticated will be able to obtain a counterfeit driver’s license and social security card using information taken from an unsuspecting victim, and will easily pass the check.
This is not a new discovery, either. Back in 2010 an independent evaluation of E-Verify by Westat, a Rockville, Maryland-based social science research firm, commissioned by the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service) Office of Policy and Strategy found that more than half (54%) of the unauthorized workers flagged by E-Verify were flagged because of some form of identity fraud.
In other words, most of the illegal workers who try to pass themselves off as legal used a stolen identity -- most likely a forged driver’s license or social security card. There are likely many more of them who used forged documents and were never flagged by E-Verify -- which, after all, is not set up for document authentication. That major flaw did not escape the attention of the Society for Human Resource Management, which said the Westat report supports what they have been saying for years -- “that E-Verify doesn’t have the proper protections and safeguards in place for detecting identity fraud”.
The evidence is there -- E-Verify will not protect employers against identity fraud, which just happens to be the major way illegal workers try to gain legal jobs. So what is the point of paying for a system that is vulnerable to the number one trick used by undocumented workers? Especially in light of the heavy fines levied by the government for even a single illegal employee.
There is a better way. Systems exist that will first authenticate the document and then run it against one or more government databases. Unlike with E-Verify, the employer can be sure the documents presented are legitimate and not a forgery. And as those systems do not require a subscription plan, their long-term costs are considerably smaller than that of databases like Veratad or Identichek. Their lower costs, combined with much better rates of identity-fraud detection, make them the ideal choice for discerning employers.
Other Republican candidates have spoken out on the issue as well. Newt Gingrich expressed his support for the E-Verify program. Rick Santorum expressed tentative support forE-Verify, while acknowledging it is not perfect. “[Require] employers to use E-Verify or some other system that they can develop by the private sector, maybe as an alternative, probably a better alternative than E-Verify” he said in January of 2011. Then again, in December, repeating that a private contractor could build a better system than E-Verify. Santorum was right, except in his tense. Such a system is already built.