CHN: Employment Verification System Dangerous for U.S. Workers and Vulnerable Populations

Attempts are being made to implement a national employment eligibility verification system (EEVS). It is being touted as a way to keep undocumented immigrants from entering the U.S. workforce. However, many experts and advocates believe it will not meet its intended goal and will instead overburden the Social Security Administration and harm workers, the elderly and people with disabilities.
Two bills have been introduced in the House that would mandate the establishment of such a program. One is the Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act, H.R. 4088, sponsored by Representatives Heath Shuler (D-NC) and Tom Tancredo (R-CO). The other is the New Employee Verification Act of 2008, H.R. 5515, which was introduced by Representative Sam Johnson (R-TX). Each would require that all 7.4 million employers in the U.S. verify the employment eligibility of every employee with the Social Security Administration (SSA). The system would be modeled after the Department of Homeland Security’s experimental Basic Pilot program, recently renamed E-Verify. Various entities that have reviewed Basic Pilot/E-Verify – including independent researchers commissioned by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2007, the Government Accountability Office, and the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General – have found it riddled with problems.

One of the biggest issues with E-Verify, which raises concerns for the proposed national employment verification system, is the high error rate in SSA’s database. According to SSA’s Office of the Inspector General an estimated 17.8 million agency records contain discrepancies that can cause the system to incorrectly classify someone as ineligible to work.  This would mean, according to SSA, that if E-Verify becomes a mandatory national program, 2.5 million workers a year could be misclassified as unauthorized to work.  It would be up to each individual to then contest the erroneous classification with SSA.

All of this would have the negative effect of preventing SSA from meeting its current responsibilities. It would most certainly delay the already slow processing of applications for benefits for people with disabilities. It is expected that SSA would have to contend with 3.6 million extra visits or calls made to its field offices per year if EEVS is implemented. As it is SSA is struggling to keep pace with its current caseload. In 2007 there were 1.4 million disability cases pending at the initial claims, reconsideration, and hearing levels.  The inevitable slowdown in services would further hamper the agency’s ability to administer benefits and would also hurt individuals’ prospects for work as they wait long periods for their work eligibility issues to be resolved.

A further complication with E-Verify, and consequently EEVS if implemented, is that it provides very few safeguards to workers. The DHS commissioned evaluation of E-Verify found that 22 percent of employers restricted work assignments, 16 percent delayed job training, and 2 percent reduced pay while workers challenged the errors in the SSA database. It also found that some employers did not even notify workers of the database error or discouraged them from contesting the claim, and worse still, that close to half of the employers participating in E-Verify screened workers before they hired them which is against program rules.  The National Council of La Raza captures the damaging effects of pre-screening: “Preemployment screening is an extremely harmful practice, because people who are authorized to work but have errors in their records are denied jobs without ever knowing that a database error was the culprit, and without having an opportunity to correct the error.”  (See Dangerous Business: Implications of an EEVS for Latinos and the U.S. Workforce)

Implementing EEVS would not only have adverse affects on the current U.S. workforce and the SSA’s ability to issue benefits, but it would also be costly. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the implementation of the SAVE Act, which would impose a national EEVS, would cost the federal government $23 billion over 10 years. Additionally, it would decrease federal revenue by $17.3 billion dollars over that same time period.

Republicans have filed a discharge petition to bring the SAVE Act directly to the floor of the House, bypassing any committee review. The petition needs 218 signatures; thus far 185 signatures have been collected.  House leadership plans to schedule a series of hearings on EEVS to better educate Members about the inherent problems with this program.

To learn more about the potential repercussions and adverse affects of EEVS please see:

Labor and Employment