By Mark Stringer
In recent weeks, some Iowa lawmakers have reignited their efforts aimed at requiring Iowa employers to use E-Verify, the federal government’s Internet-based system that attempts to verify work eligibility of individuals.
It’s part of a larger debate about E-Verify that spans the country. Different states have different laws governing the use of E-Verify, and there’s also been a movement to make E-Verify mandatory on a federal basis. But no matter what your position is on immigration and undocumented immigrants in particular, E-Verify is no solution for our country in general or Iowa specifically.
Currently, only two states require the use of E-Verify for all employers. Requiring its use in Iowa would create a number of problems.
E-Verify is riddled with serious errors. It relies on a number of other government databases, themselves full of errors. E-Verify reports that it initially finds about 1 percent of job seekers ineligible to work. That error rate might appear small, but with more than 800,000 workers in Iowa being hired each year, that would mean more than 8,000 people each year would be incorrectly identified as unauthorized to work.
Those errors will result in qualified workers being turned away. Stories and studies abound about qualified workers who were rightly hired for jobs but then became entangled in a nightmare of trying to correct erroneous reporting from E-Verify. In many cases, they were not told which specific records identified them as ineligible for work, so they couldn’t fix the error. This has resulted in people losing wages or even the job itself as they or an employer tries for weeks or even months to work through the bureaucracy.
And E-Verify errors don’t necessarily go away. E-Verify can take incorrect information about you and multiply it through the system. Can you imagine being turned away from one job because of an E-Verify snafu, only to find that when you applied for other jobs, the incorrect E-Verify information is following you from job application to job application?
E-Verify poses a huge new threat to personal privacy. With 1.6 million employees in Iowa, requiring the use of E-Verify for all employers would quickly create one of the largest and most widely accessible state government collections of data. Information including names, Social Security numbers, phone numbers, email addresses, and in some cases, photos, would be collected and stored. This information could then be mined by the government for law enforcement, intelligence, or other purposes, and would make Iowa a prime target for malicious hackers.
E-Verify does a bad job of identifying undocumented workers. And isn’t this the main reason E-Verify is used in the first place?
Yet the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has estimated the accuracy rate of E-Verify at only 46 percent for undocumented immigrants, meaning more than half of all undocumented workers make it through the system. That’s because E-Verify often can’t catch falsified information. In one example cited by the GAO, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) found that 1,340 employees of a meat processing plant were undocumented workers even though each had been processed through E-Verify.
E-Verify is very, very expensive. We’re not aware of cost estimates for Iowa, but if E-Verify were mandated at the federal level, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that over 10 years it would cost over a billion dollars and increase the federal budget deficit by more than $30 billion.
E-Verify will do little to help our economy or keep us safer. And as multiple business groups have stated, Iowa needs immigrants. Numerous studies show again and again that undocumented workers in this country are far less likely to commit crimes than U.S. citizens. As a group, immigrants do not make our communities less safe. The solution is to fix our broken immigration system, not to spend millions on E-Verify.
E-Verify will only create obstacles for qualified workers to get the jobs they need, compromise privacy, and waste millions in taxpayer money.
Mark Stringer is the executive director of the ACLU of Iowa. He can be reached at email@example.com.