Committing to E-Verify

By Jason Richwine on August 24, 2023

Any politician who is serious about discouraging illegal immigration should support E-Verify, the online tool that allows employers to determine whether their employees have work authorization. Mandating E-Verify nationwide would be one of the most effective enforcement measures, but don’t take my word for it. Listen to the Farm Bureau, which says E-Verify will have “dire impacts” because it would lose illegal workers, or to Mark Zuckerberg’s pro-immigration lobbying group that warns about E-Verify “diminishing the size of the available labor pool.” These activists are not as concerned about walls or troops on the border because they know such measures are less effective than targeting the jobs-magnet directly.

Unfortunately, E-Verify was not a top priority for the Trump administration, and the former president remains oddly non-committal about it. When asked, “Will you implement E-Verify nationally?” in a candidate questionnaire published this week, Trump responded only with, “We must stop people coming illegally into the country from taking jobs from American citizens.”

That evasive reply contrasts sharply with the forcefulness of Trump’s other answers to the questionnaire. For example, when asked, “Will you extend the temporary parole status given to migrants by [Biden]?” his response was clear and direct: “No. All parole will be terminated retroactively and prospectively.”

The contrast with other candidates’ responses on E-Verify is also striking. Every other candidate who answered the individual questions – Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, and Tim Scott – gave a full-throated endorsement of E-Verify. DeSantis’s answer was particularly convincing because he was able to point to Florida’s implementation of E-Verify under his watch as governor.

Why is Trump so lukewarm toward the program? Perhaps he feels he cannot get it through Congress, but a fairly strong version did pass the House last spring. It’s not implausible that a compromise measure could also work its way through the Senate in the future.

More importantly, implementing mandatory E-Verify may not require Congressional action at all. Current law requires employers to collect information on work eligibility through the paper I-9 form – which, contrary to popular belief, does not actually get submitted to the government. Employers must merely keep I-9 forms on hand for three years in case the government wants to look at them. (It rarely does.) A simple regulatory change that requires employers to complete the I-9 through a government website rather than on paper may be able to replicate the E-Verify process without new legislation.

Trump’s administration did belatedly start work on this idea (sometimes called "G-Verify") near the end of his term, but the clock ran out. A new administration that prioritizes mandatory E-Verify could get started immediately on implementing a new rule, ensuring enough time for the regulatory processes and inevitable legal challenges to play themselves out. But Trump apparently has different priorities.