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Washington Labor & Employment Wire » House Subcommittee Hears Testimony from Proponents and Critics of E-Verify

House Subcommittee Hears Testimony from Proponents and Critics of E-Verify

On June 10, 2008, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law held a hearing on “Electronic Employment Verification Systems: Needed Safeguards to Protect Privacy and Prevent Misuse.” Most of the testimony concerned the current E-Verify system, and the provision in the proposed Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement Act (”SAVE Act”) (H.R. 4088) that would make employer participation in the E-Verify program mandatory. Administered in part by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the E-Verify system requires employers to submit employees’ Social Security numbers and identifying information. Where employees’ information is not consistent with Social Security Administration (SSA) records, employees have ten days to correct the mismatch, or the employer is required to terminate the employee.

Rep. Shuler (D-NC) and Rep. Calvert (R-CA) testified in favor of extending the E-Verify program. In response to critics of widespread mandatory implementation of the program, Rep. Shuler noted that E-Verify is currently required by law to varying degrees in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Utah, and has been largely a success. Glenda Wooten-Ingram, an experienced Director of Human Resources at hotels in the Washington D.C. area, praised E-Verify for making it easier for employers to verify quickly and inexpensively employee work eligibility, and to deter ineligible job applicants. Jonathan Scharfen, acting director of U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, testified in favor of E-Verify, and described recent improvements to the system. However, when questioned by Committee Chairman Conyers (D-MI), Scharfen admitted that the program only rarely results in prosecutions against employers for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.

Carolyn Shettle, Senior Study Director at Westat, testified about the results of its study of the E-Verify program, which was commissioned by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Shettle reported that common types of employer noncompliance include using E-Verify to screen job applicants, and taking prohibited adverse actions against employees while they are contesting preliminary mismatches by, for example, restricting work assignments or delaying training.  Westat’s recommendations for improving E-Verify include addressing the fact that work-authorized foreign-born workers are significantly more likely to receive tentative non-confirmations than U.S.-born workers.

Witnesses who testified against extending the E-Verify program included Christopher Williams, Director of the Working Hands Legal Clinic, and Timothy Sparapani, Senior Legislative Counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, both of whom cited Westat’s findings as evidence of E-Verify’s flaws. Williams emphasized E-Verify’s “unacceptably high error rates,” and employer non-compliance with program rules. Sparapini asked Congress to block any proposal for mandated employment eligibility verification that does not adequately provide workers with a “fair and just set of administrative and judicial procedures to resolve data errors promptly and efficiently.”

Rep. Johnson (R-TX) and Rep. Giffords (D-AZ) testified in favor of competing legislation, the New Employee Verification Act of 2008 (”NEVA”) (H.R. 5515), which would provide an alternative electronic verification system. Rep. Johnson testified that it is inappropriate that DHS, an agency responsible for tracking terrorists, maintains E-Verify databases on the employment histories of U.S. citizens, especially when SSA has always had the responsibility to track the earnings of American workers. Rep. Johnson asserted that the NEVA electronic verification system “builds upon the lessons learned from E-Verify,” and noted that his legislation is supported by employer groups including the National Association of Manufacturers, Society for Human Resource Management, National Association of Home Builders, and National Federation of Independent Business.