Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is a long-time champion of E-Verify, the federal government’s online tool that allows employers to quickly check whether their employees are authorized to work in the U.S. When the governor proposed during his first term to require that all Florida businesses use E-Verify, the legislature demurred. It eventually passed a bill requiring only public-sector agencies and their contractors to use the system. Now, after his successful re-election, DeSantis has repeated his call for universal E-Verify. And, once again, the legislature is poised to implement only a partial expansion of the system.
The current bill would mandate E-Verify for private-sector businesses that employ 25 or more people. The natural question to ask is what fraction of Florida’s illegal immigrant employees would be covered under that provision. Based on our calculations using the Current Population Survey, the answer is about 44 percent.1 In other words, 56 percent of illegal immigrant employees in Florida work for firms that would not be subject to E-Verify under the proposed bill.
Lawmakers are “trying to accommodate some of these smaller mom-and-pop shops that would have some challenges coming up to speed on enforcement,” according to a DeSantis aide. If such challenges are a genuine concern, the way to get smaller businesses up to speed would be to give them a longer phase-in period – not to grant them a permanent exemption.
The bill contains additional provisions that seem to limit its reach. For example, if the E-Verify system is not available during the three-day period that employers normally have to verify new employees, then the bill does not simply grant an extension. Instead, it says that employers can default to the old I-9 forms, skipping the E-Verify process altogether. Computer screenshots would be considered sufficient proof that E-Verify was not available.
Furthermore, although proponents of the bill tout fines and license suspensions as a consequence of noncompliance, such punishments persist only “until the noncompliance is cured.” Since long-term penalties are not mentioned, an employer might rationally decide to ignore E-Verify, comply briefly if caught, then go back to ignoring the law again.
Properly enforced, universal E-Verify remains the most effective way to discourage illegal immigration. In fact, the best evidence for the system’s effectiveness is that the business lobby opposes it — not merely on the pretext of administrative burden, but explicitly because E-Verify would make it difficult to hire illegal immigrants. Unfortunately, Florida’s partial implementation will forgo much of the program’s deterrent value.
 To identify illegal immigrants in survey data, CIS uses an elimination and weighting technique based on known characteristics of the illegal population. More detail can be found in the methods section here. The calculation above excludes the self-employed from both the numerator and the denominator. If self-employed illegal immigrants were included, the percentage who work for businesses with fewer than 25 employees would rise to 60 percent.