Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Feds' program to detect unauthorized workers doesn't detect unauthorized workers

Once again, research has shown that the federal E-Verify program is not ready for prime time, and it is certainly not ready for Pennsylvania. E-Verify is the feds' online database program that is supposed to tell businesses if an employee is work-authorized. One small problem: A majority of the time it doesn't detect unauthorized workers.

Last month Westat released the results of a study commissioned by the federal government. A majority of the unauthorized workers that Westat put through E-Verify came back as eligible to work. In other words, E-Verify can't do the one job that its intended to do.
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who is writing the Democrats' immigration bill and has fought expanding E-Verify because of its flaws, said Wednesday that the fact that E-Verify was inaccurate so often shows that it is not an adequate tool.

"This is a wake-up call to anyone who thinks E-Verify is an effective remedy to stop the hiring of illegal immigrants," Schumer said.

E-Verify has long been a target of derision for civil rights advocates, particularly because the databases used in E-Verify are riddled with errors. These errors lead to eligible workers being denied work because E-Verify says they are not authorized to work. The errors disproportionately affect naturalized citizens.

The federal government claims that the error rate is low, with Westat reporting a .7 percent error rate. Of course, that's 1.5 million Americans over the age of 15, so apparently the Obama administration's message to those 1.5 million Americans is, "Sucks to be you."

The companies that are actually using E-Verify report a much higher error rate. Intel has said that 12 percent of legal workers it put through E-Verify came back as ineligible. A major, multinational employer reported a 15 percent error rate. And a fast food franchise in Arizona with 24 restaurants has said that 75 percent of the legal immigrant workers it put through E-Verify came back as unauthorized.

Meanwhile, here in PA, some legislators think it would be a swell idea to bring this flawed program to the commonwealth. Rep. John Galloway (D-Bucks County) and Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler County) are pushing to get a vote on bills to require state contractors (HB 1502) and all construction businesses (HB 1503) to use E-Verify. These bills already passed out of committee and are being teed up for a vote on the floor of the House.

Regardless of the state of the economy, it's never a good idea to implement state policy that hurts workers. It's especially damaging in this economy with a 10 percent unemployment rate. E-Verify creates barriers to employment and can't even do the one job it's intended to do, weed out unauthorized workers. E-Verify is bad for workers, bad for business, and bad for Pennsylvania.

Andy in Harrisburg

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