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Migration Policy Institute releases report on E-Verify

On July 20, 2009, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) released a report that examines the federal government's E-Verify program and urges Congress and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to take immediate steps to strengthen the system while also testing alternatives for a next-generation E-Verify. E-Verify is the free, voluntary, web-based program operated by the DHS, in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA), that allows participating employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of their newly hired employees (i.e., it compares information from the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, against federal government databases to verify workers' employment eligibility).

Current program must be strengthened

MPI's report, The Next Generation of E-Verify: Getting Employment Verification Right, urges immediate steps to strengthen the existing E-Verify program and, in the context of expected mandatory electronic employment verification and comprehensive immigration reform, urges the testing of several new voluntary pilots for a next-generation E-Verify system.

“Effective employment verification must be at the heart of comprehensive immigration reform legislation if new policies are to succeed in preventing future illegal immigration,” said report co-author and MPI Senior Fellow Doris Meissner, who directs MPI's U.S. Immigration Policy Program.

Said co-author Marc Rosenblum, an MPI Senior Policy Analyst, “while U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has greatly improved E-Verify and reduced the program's error rates, the system most crucially still cannot detect identity fraud. E-Verify requires enhanced due-process protections, compliance and auditing for misuse and identity fraud, stronger employer oversight and real enforcement of worker protections.”

Pilot testing of next gen E-Verify recommended

The report outlines three alternatives for a next-generation E-Verify, recommending that Congress approve voluntary pilot testing of systems based on: (1) secure documents; (2) PIN pre-verification and (3) biometric scanning. “Each of these approaches has strong advantages and disadvantages, which is why we are recommending that they be field-tested alongside the current system to determine the best approach for the next generation of E-Verify,” Rosenblum said.

The current E-Verify model places employers at the center of the identity authentication process, which has resulted in difficulties for employers and workers alike, according to the report. The proposed pilot programs would move from an employer-centric to a more employer-neutral model, streamlining the steps employers are required to take to confirm work authorization for new hires; reducing incentives and potential for identity fraud; and removing the guesswork in authenticating the identities of new hires.

“By testing new approaches now rather than locking in a single system, Congress can take advantage of the experience and new technologies that will allow E-Verify to best accomplish its vital immigration policy mission,” said Meissner, who as Commissioner of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service oversaw the implementation of the Basic Pilot, which was subsequently renamed E-Verify. “Rushing to expand a flawed system could lead to a repeat of the mistakes of the past, and threaten the longer-term success of broader immigration policy reforms.”

Three sets of reforms suggested

While testing new approaches, MPI also recommends three sets of reforms for the existing E-Verify program:

I strengthening due process protections and compensating workers when system errors result in the wrongful termination of U.S. citizens and other legal workers — steps that would be particularly important with mandatory employment verification that would result in the checks of millions of workers, native and foreign-born, each year;

I strengthening enforcement of worker protections and employer penalties, training, and oversight; and

I monitoring E-Verify compliance and strengthening auditing to identify patterns of misuse, selective screening, identity fraud, and off-the-books employment. An effective, up-and-running monitoring and compliance unit must be a top DHS priority.

For E-Verify to succeed over time as a mandatory system, Congress should both strengthen the existing system and provide for pilots to test new approaches for a next-generation E-Verify instead of locking in a single approach, said the report. Only in this way can E-Verify take advantage of experience and new technologies to best accomplish its vital immigration policy mission.

The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels.