The government’s pricey system to verify that employees are authorized to work legally in the U.S. is somewhat of a joke that has approved thousands of illegal immigrants and hundreds of thousands of foreigners without using its own photo-matching process to confirm identities. Additionally, the system, which is operated by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), deemed around 4,000 foreign-born applicants as “employment authorized” based on employer-sponsored visas without verifying that candidates were actually hired by the employers that sponsored them.
The famously inefficient program is known as E-Verify, a costly database that screens new employees using records from various government agencies to confirm the candidate is in the country legally. It is a web-based system that supposedly matches information provided by new hires against DHS and Social Security Administration (SSA) records. USCIS operates it because the agency is responsible for administering the nation’s lawful immigration system. The program is available to employers in every state as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. For private businesses it is voluntary but federal contractors and subcontractors must use it to vet workers. The government claims E-Verify is “currently the best means available to electronically confirm employment eligibility.”
That is distressing considering the lapses that have been well documented over the years. The most recent E-Verify problems are the focus of a lengthy federal audit published just a few days ago by the DHS Inspector General. In its report, the watchdog blasts USCIS, identifying “deficiencies” that illustrate the program needs “additional capabilities” to “more effectively confirm that individuals are eligible for employment in the United States.” The document identifies weaknesses in E-Verify’s process for confirming identity during employment verification and discloses that the system’s photo-matching mechanism is not fully automated, but rather, relies on employers to confirm individuals’ identities by manually reviewing photos. “We also determined that in fiscal year 2019, E-Verify returned an ‘Employment Authorized’ result for about 280,000 non-U.S. citizens without using the photo-matching process to confirm their identities,” the report says. “Additionally, although the majority of individuals submit a driver’s license to prove identity, E-Verify’s process does not use photos to ensure that individuals match the license submitted.”
It gets better. Investigators reveal they “found errors in E-Verify’s license verification process that resulted in E-Verify deeming about 613,000 individuals ‘Employment Authorized’ without meeting USCIS’ own identification system use requirement.” The probe further determined that E-Verify returned an “Employment Authorized” result for almost 3,000 non-U.S. citizens who did not meet USCIS’ verification requirements. Those are considered illegal immigrants. E-Verify also authorized 4,000 non-U.S. citizens to work based on an employer-sponsored visa without verifying that the individual was hired by the employer that sponsored them. “Lastly, USCIS has not completed full testing of E-Verify’s capabilities to determine whether the system can handle the projected increase in users,” the report states, attributing the problems to USCIS’s failure to develop or evaluate internal controls necessary to detect, track and investigate system errors. “Until USCIS addresses E-Verify’s deficiencies, it cannot ensure the system provides accurate employment eligibility results,” the watchdog writes.
Since it was launched in 1996, E-Verify’s efficiency has come under fire despite receiving generous funding from Congress. This fiscal year, the system got $118.7 million from American taxpayers. Around 909,000 employers throughout the nation use it to verify the employee work authorization of more than 40 million hires, making it an important tool to curb illegal immigration since jobs are a huge lure for migrants. For years undocumented immigrant workers have been able to pass an E-Verify check with fake identification documents. In fact, an audit conducted for the federal government more than a decade ago revealed that around 54% of illegal immigrants workers are approved by E-Verify to work legally in the U.S. It seems that little has changed to assure the system is more efficient.