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Archived: E-Verify Errors Prevent People from Working

At a time when working families across the country are struggling to make ends meet, some have proposed mandating that every American employer use the deeply flawed E-Verify program to assess whether new hires are eligible to work in the
United States. According to their logic, if we can make it sufficiently difficult for undocumented immigrants to find work, most of them will pack up and leave. Not only will the dramatic expansion of E-Verify fail to solve our immigration challenges, its serious deficiencies are causing significant harm to lawful workers.

Since 2008, the use of E-Verify has dramatically expanded nationwide. In the past year, approximately 17 million people were processed in the program, and every week another 1,000 new employers enroll. This rapid growth makes it imperative that workers in the program are processed quickly and accurately.

Unfortunately, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data show that .5 percent of all Final Non-Confirmations (FNC) are issued erroneously; meaning people who are legally eligible to work are told they are ineligible in error. While an error rate of .5 percent might appear insignificant, under current law, employers are required to dismiss any worker who receives a FNC. With 17 million E-
Verify queries over the past year, as many as 85,000 people may have lost their jobs because of this E-Verify error. In today’s struggling economy, these erroneous FNCs are devastating, and in states where participation in E-Verify is mandatory, they can serve as a total bar to obtaining employment.

Moreover, the program’s defects have disproportionately affected minority communities. E-Verify error rates are thirty times higher for naturalized U.S. citizens and fifty times higher for legal non-immigrants than for native-born U.S. citizens. This means that foreign-born workers—who already face higher unemployment rates than the general population—are more likely to be locked out of jobs than their native counterparts.

In light of these disturbing figures, I believe a fair process should exist for authorized workers to effectively challenge wrongful work-eligibility determinations. Unfortunately, the USCIS currently lacks any official means for individuals to correct an inaccurate FNC.

On February 13, 2012 the Verification Division and Office of Public Engagement at USCIS held discussions with key stakeholders about how to rectify this problem. I am currently working with my colleagues to urge the USCIS to build on this important first step by moving swiftly to establish a transparent review process that would enable authorized individuals to overturn FNCs issued in error. Doing so is critical—particularly for low-income citizens unfairly harmed by E-Verify—and would address one of the program’s most significant weaknesses.

As it stands now, far from being a solution to our immigration challenges, E-Verify is simply another example of why our immigration system is so badly broken. These errors are completely unacceptable at a time when so many people are struggling to make ends meet. We owe it to workers to establish a simple, transparent process for fixing these mistakes.

U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard represents the 34th Congressional district that includes Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, the cities of Bell, Bell Gardens, Commerce, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Maywood, Vernon and unincorporated areas of East Los Angeles, and other areas.