U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data from the first seven weeks of 2009 suggest that by the end of this year, E-Verify use will have grown 442 percent since 2007.
Employers send queries to the free, online E-Verify system to determine the work-eligibility of new hires. As of the third week in February, online queries for 2009 were already approaching 3 million, almost half the 6.6 million queries for all of 2008, a number that was itself more than double the 2007 use of E-Verify.
The projected growth in the number of queries for 2009, based on usage so far this year, is 167 percent over the 2008 figure, and the rate of growth is actually likely to accelerate, resulting in an even larger final tally. This projected growth of 167 percent for 2009 is a significant increase from the 103 percent growth in E-Verify usage in 2008.
Those numbers translate to E-Verify being used in 2008 to verify one in eight (about 13 percent) of new hires nationwide. That was up from one in 18 new hires being queried via E-Verify in 2007, or 6 percent of new hires.
In January 2009, the Department of Homeland Security announced that 100,890 employers at more than 400,000 worksites had signed up with E-Verify since its inception. By mid-February, DHS numbers show over 10,000 more employers on board — 111,759 at 439,956 worksites. Arizona led the total number of sites using E-Verify with 48,985 – Arizona’s law requiring use of E-Verify by all private and public employers has been upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. California has the next largest number of E-Verify employers, with 47,500 sites. The top ten states using E-Verify are as follows:
According to DHS, more than three million queries have been run through the system since Oct. 1, 2008; of those, more than 96.1 percent are automatically verified as employment authorized. In my September 2008 Backgrounder, "If It's Fixed, Don't Break It: Moving Forward with E-Verify," I concluded that E-Verify enables compliance with federal law cheaply, efficiently, and accurately; helps ensure that only legal workers are hired for American jobs; and has proven itself to be 99.5 percent accurate, with “nonconfirmations” matching the estimated illegal workforce of 4 to 5 percent. And since that report in September, the program has continued to improve.
Improvements for naturalized citizens. On March 5, 2009, USCIS announced that passport data is now accessible for E-Verify work authorization verification. The value of passport data to E-Verify is that it will reduce incidences of mismatches for naturalized citizens who, as citizens, are obviously eligible to work but who have not yet updated their status with the Social Security Administration (SSA). The glitch would occur previously because all new citizens must apply for a new Social Security number; failing to do so resulted in tentative nonconfirmation from E-Verify, which queries SSA data first. That problem is now superseded by USCIS immediately querying State Department passport and visa records prior to issuing such a tentative nonconfirmation. This resolves a program criticism by independent auditor Westat in a September 2007 evaluation that noted that foreign-born citizens were more likely to receive tentative nonconfirmations than U.S.-born citizens.
Of note is that USCIS was already resolving this issue with a May 2008 enhancement, whereby USCIS could be directly queried by foreign-born citizens if they received a tentative nonconfirmation. That automation had reduced mismatches by 39 percent. However, adding State Department data will further streamline the authorization process, while also reducing the small amount of fraud that the most sophisticated of identity thieves are still able to use to bypass E-Verify and acquire false work authorizations.
Coming later in 2009 (assuming E-Verify is reauthorized this week) fraud will be further reduced when USCIS is able to access the State Department’s original passport and visa application digital photos. Rollout is planned for autumn 2009.
Still not reauthorized. E-Verify was reauthorized under emergency measures in late 2008 by Congress, but only until March 6, 2009. There is no indication President Obama or DHS Secretary Napolitano have requested reauthorization. As of March 6, 2009, a Continuing Resolution was passed to keep the government open (and E-Verify functioning) until March 11, 2009. A new victory occurred Friday when Senate Majority Leader Reid, who initially blocked Sen. Sessions’ E-Verify reauthorization amendment, agreed to have this amendment considered for a vote on March 9 or 10 while the Senate is debating a $410 billion Omnibus Appropriations bill (H.R. 1105) to fund the federal government through the remainder of FY-2009. However, sources say the Majority intend to keep E-Verify as a bargaining chip to trade for an illegal-alien amnesty in the fall, and still hope to reauthorize it only until September 2009, a short six-month extension.
Background. The House version of the 2009 $810 billion stimulus package reauthorized E-Verify for four years, but the Senate version did not. Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) wanted E-Verify reauthorization in the stimulus package to help protect American workers, but were unsuccessful in the Senate. The House provision was stripped out in conference and did not make it into the final legislation that the president signed on February 13, 2009.
Of note is that the President's budget does include a $10 million increase in spending for E-Verify over the last Bush administration budget of $100 million, so there remains some interest in the program, although arguably more puzzlingly neutral than expected. President Obama supported E-Verify during his campaign but on January 29, 2009, the administration delayed until at least May 2009 a rule that required certain federal contractors to use E-Verify. According to a press release by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Builders and Contractors, the hold was at their request. In addition, DHS Secretary Napolitano has issued a directive to review E-Verify in a manner that questions the program more than supports it.
Conclusion. Despite the fact that E-Verify is arguably one of the most effective programs in the government, it is still in real trouble. Perhaps precisely because of its success, forces not interested in streamlined work authorization – like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, immigration special interest groups, and others – are opposing the program vociferously.
If the fully operational E-Verify system is discontinued by Congress, we will find that we have undone progress towards a more transparent, legally authorized work force that so many have been demanding for years.