Mr. Chairman and members of the Labor Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today regarding Sen. Cote’s bill to implement phased-in mandatory use of the federal electronic work authorization system, E-Verify, for all employers with three or more employees.
I know you have heard a great deal of testimony regarding this bill. I want to focus on just a few key points about E-Verify that we know from experience and from the extensive independent evaluations that have been done by Westat and the GAO. I also want to share some new information from testimony last week before the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee in Washington and from the Verification Office of USCIS, the agency that administers the program.
E-Verify works. The employers who use it – who now number 221 in Rhode Island,1 which is about triple the number at this time last year – report overwhelmingly that it does help them avoid hiring illegal workers, and that it is much better than the current I-9 system, which is more vulnerable to document fraud and employer abuse.
E-Verify is easy to use. My own organization uses it and, like other small businesses, we have encountered no problems with the system. The tutorial takes about 30 minutes to complete, if you take your time. No special software or security system is required.
E-Verify is accurate. 98 percent of eligible workers are confirmed to work instantaneously. Fewer than one percent of eligible workers need to update their records to be confirmed.2
It is true, as some have testified, that the Social Security Administration database used by E-Verify does have some records with incorrect information (an estimated 17.8 million out of 435 million). However, the auditors noted that many of the records with discrepancies belong to individuals who are not in the work force, such as elderly, children, or deceased individuals, and thus would not be relevant to E-Verify. That same audit actually complimented the Social Security Administration for the accuracy of the database.3
According to Verification Office officials, minor typographical errors rarely result in a tentative non-confirmation, or “yellow light,” contrary to what some have stated. If an employee’s name is “Marie,” for example, and the employer queries on “Maria,” with all other information the same, the employee will be confirmed.
E-Verify’s impact on Social Security workload will be minimal. A large share (roughly 40%) of the small number of yellow lights on eligible workers (less than 1%) occur because the new employee is a naturalized citizen who has not informed the Social Security Administration that they have acquired citizenship. At the House Ways and Means hearing last week, Greg Heineman, the President of the National Council of Social Security Management Associations, stated that approximately seven percent of naturalized citizens have not updated their Social Security record.4 That is not a large percentage, but it is legitimate to consider what impact these individuals would have on the workload of the Social Security field offices if many of them suddenly needed to update their SSA records.
There are about 55,000 naturalized citizens in Rhode Island, roughly three-fourths of whom are working. According to the US Department of Labor, about four percent of private sector workers are new-hires in the most active months. If seven percent of Rhode Island’s naturalized citizen new hires need to update their SSA record, that would be no more than 120 people per month visiting one of Rhode Island’s five SSA Field Offices. That is one or two people a day.
Arizona has already implemented a measure similar to this bill. Mr. Heineman testified that Arizona’s SSA Field Offices report that in the first three months of the implementation of mandatory E-Verify, the E-Verify cases represented about 1.3 percent of the field offices’ workload. That is certainly a manageable increase. He stated that the field offices require about 20 minutes to resolve each case. However, most of these cases will not materialize, due to recent program improvements.
New program improvements speed confirmation for naturalized citizens. It is important to remember that the already-low “yellow light” rates for eligible workers such as certain naturalized citizens will decline significantly from now on, due to improvements to the process implemented by the Verification Office just last week. From now on, the verification of naturalized citizens will be handled by USCIS instead of SSA, to accommodate those individuals who have not updated their status with SSA. From now on, these individuals will be confirmed using DHS records of their naturalization, alleviating any prospect of overburdening the Social Security field offices.
It is also important to remember that new hires who are “yellow lighted” may not be fired; they have eight working days to contact either USCIS or SSA to correct their record. Employers may not fire anyone over a tentative non-confirmation.
E-Verify reduces discrimination against immigrant workers. According to the Westat evaluation, employers report that they are more likely to hire immigrant workers using E-Verify, because they feel confident that the new hires are authorized to work, and that they are not using false documents.
The Verification Office has established a new unit to enable the agency to better detect identity theft or mis-use of genuine Social Security numbers or other documents. Analysts in the new Monitoring and Compliance Unit will use computer-assisted techniques to flag multiple uses of the same number, for example, and other attempts to thwart the system.
Finally, E-Verify is here to stay. It enjoys broad support across the political spectrum. It was a major feature of the comprehensive immigration reform package introduced last year by Sen. Edward Kennedy and Sen. John McCain. It was included in Rep. Luis Gutierrez’s comprehensive immigration reform bill that was endorsed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The entire federal government is using the system now. Two other states have enacted mandatory use (Arizona and Mississippi) and at least nine states plus several towns and counties require public agencies and contractors to use it. One thousand new employers are signing up every week.
But until the program becomes mandatory for all employers, the state of Rhode Island will provide a loophole for those employers who wish to excuse themselves from legal hiring practices to continue employing illegal aliens. This is unfair to those employers who play by the rules, and emboldens those few employers who will continue to attract and exploit illegal immigrant workers.
Respectfully submitted by,
Jessica M. Vaughan
Center for Immigration Studies
1 E-mail correspondence with Katherine Lotspeich, Deputy Chief of the USCIS Verification Division, May 13, 2008.
2 Findings of the Web Basic Pilot Evaluation, Westat, submitted to the US Department of Homeland Security, September, 2007, at http://www.uscis.gov/files/article/WebBasicPilotRprtSept2007.pdf.
3 Accuracy of the Social Security Administration’s Numident File, Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration, A-08-06-26100.
4 Greg Heineman, Written Testimony for the Record, US House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Social Security, May 6, 2008, http://waysandmeans.house.gov/hearings.asp?formmode=view&id=6895.
Jessica M. Vaughan is Senior Policy Analyst for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, DC-based research institute. She has been with the Center since 1992, and her areas of expertise include visa programs, immigration benefits and immigration law enforcement. Prior to joining the Center, Mrs. Vaughan was a Foreign Service Officer with the State Department, where she served in consular and administrative posts in U.S. embassies overseas. Her articles have appeared in major newspapers and other outlets, and can be found at www.cis.org. She has testified before Congress several times and is frequently cited in news media reports on immigration, including on NPR, CNN and PBS.