Grassroots Commentary

Will E-Verify Become a National ID System?

By Bill Franklin · Aug. 26, 2013

Last month I blogged that the ObamaCare data hub would make individual privacy an artifact of the past. The immigration bill that’s making its way through Congress contains an equally scary provision that essentially gives the federal government the power to determine if you and I can be employed. It’s called E-Verify. Incredibly, it has bipartisan support.

Here’s how it works.

E-Verify is an Internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security. Its purpose is to verify that every person seeking employment in the US is “eligible” – i.e. approved by the federal government to be employed. The program is currently deployed in pilot programs between 16 state governments and the federal government.

When you apply for employment you must complete an I-9 form and furnish personal information (name, DOB, Social Security Number, and verification of your citizenship or immigration status) for E-Verify to process. Processing involves comparing the information you furnish with the information in databases maintained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Social Security Administration (SSA). If all of the information matches, E-Verify notifies the employer that you are eligible to work. A future feature of the system will furnish the employer a digital image of the applicant, as is now done for passports, which the employer must confirm matches the job applicant.

If the information doesn’t match for any reason – for example, maybe the applicant’s immigration status doesn’t allow working in the US or perhaps there is an error in the government’s record – the employer is sent a “Tentative Non-confirmation” (TNC) and the applicant has eight working days to contact DHS and/or SSA and sort out the problem. If the problem isn’t resolved in eight days, E-Verify sends a “Final Non-confirmation” notice to the employer, who is required by law to fire the employee.

Why not hold off hiring the person, you ask, until eligibility is received from E-Verify? Because, we are told, E-Verify is not to be used until someone is hired – i.e. it’s not for screening candidates we might hire. The employer must therefore incur the onboarding process and expense in order to lawfully use E-Verify.

The purpose of the E-Verify program is to prevent illegals from obtaining employment. The method of the E-Verify program is to require that everyone in the US to obtain permission from the government before being employed. Everyone – you and I – must prove we are who we say we are before we can earn a living. Theoretically, the entire American workforce – estimated currently to be between 130 million and 150 million – must go through the verification process in order to prevent an estimated eight million illegals from getting jobs (mostly low wage, labor-intensive work).

Proponents of E-Verify argue, hey, you have to put up with a certain amount of hassle in order to get a driver’s license and auto tag, comply with the TSA to board a plane, obtain a building permit; what’s the beef? The beef is I don’t have to drive a car, travel by air, or make an addition to my house – but I do have to make a living. Whoever controls my right to make a living has a lot of control over my life.

“But it takes only minutes,” supporters insist. Yep. Minutes. When it works. When it doesn’t work, whose problem is it? Well, it’s not the employer’s or the government’s problem. It’s mine. And I’ve got eight days to sort it out with a faceless bureaucracy.

Show me one thing that the “expertise” of an unaccountable government bureaucracy made better by its involvement. Schools? The Post Office? Amtrak? Anything? A national employment verification system has been the holy grail of employment managers for years. The E-Verify in the 16-state pilot has been in trial use for over a decade. You’d expect that if credit card issuers can monitor credit card use and spot fraudulent activity, that E-Verify would have some sort of fraud profile to spot identity theft. Yet of the 3.5 million transactions entered over the three year period ending March 2007, approximately 744,000 transactions – 21% – were Social Security numbers used multiple times. That means people using the same name and Social Security number were concurrently working at multiple locations.

Ironically E-Verify can’t do what it was designed to do: i.e. deny work to illegal aliens.

The most recently available audit of accuracy found 54% false positives – that is, people who were verified as eligible to work weren’t legally in this country.

Determining false negatives – people rejected who should have been approved – is a bit tricky because a person can be rejected because of illegally being in the US or being legally in the US but having an error in the person’s database record. Muzaffar Chishti, who is with the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute, says the E-Verify error rate, once between eight and ten percent, has “improved” to two percent. Sounds small, but it’s almost three million of the present workforce. True, the entire workforce does not change jobs every year, but an average of 13% do and that’s almost 400,000 who are wrongly denied employment. How would you like to be one of them and spend several months sorting out an error in the system?

Consider the case of Jessica St. Pierre, the daughter of Haitian and Bahaman immigrants. She was born in Florida. When she went to work for a telephone company, E-Verify rejected her as an unauthorized worker. She went to her local Social Security office to find the error and was given a print-out showing that her records were correct. She showed the print-out to the employer, but her information still couldn’t process her through E-Verify. She contacted other government agencies, even the E-Verify Hotline, and no one could find an error in her database record. She was fired as required by law and was out of work for three months. With the help of the National Immigration Law Center, the error was finally found. The telephone company had entered her name into the system without a period after the “St.” and it wouldn’t match in E-Verify. The telephone company wouldn’t give back her job and she had to take a job making $2 per hour less.

Yep. Only takes minutes. When it works.

As I mentioned in last month’s blog on ObamaCare’s data hub, consolidated data is an identity thief’s dream come true. Hackers from around the world employ the latest technology to access databases that aggregate millions of records. And when/if E-Verify becomes mandatory, it will be a prime target for hackers because there – in one place – is someone’s phone and Social Security number, email address, work history (since E-Verify must be used with each job change), and photos (if the plan to add state driver license data succeeds.)

If a photo or driver license data requirement is added to the E-Verify system, we will have the essential elements for a national identification structure on every working and retired person, even though the E-Verify provision of the immigration bill forbids a national ID card. It won’t be called a national ID system but it will have all of the necessary functionality to be one. Missions always creep. Don’t forget that the Social Security card began as an account number. For years Social Security cards were imprinted with “Not for Identification Purposes.” That restriction was removed in the 1980s. Today it’s impossible to function in society without a Social Security account number as our unique identifier. E-Verify will be a more robust identifier than a Social Security number.

One would hope that recent abuses by IRS, FBI, and NSA would persuade citizens that if there’s a way for government to misuse its power, ultimately it will. The Social Security account number was expanded well beyond its original purpose, despite a congressional ban when Social Security was launched. E-Verify will be expanded beyond its intended purpose. The potential usefulness of E-Verify as an all-purpose ID check will be too irresistible. Politicians always push the envelope.

The opportunities for abuse in this program are staggering. If driver’s license information is added to E-Verify, why not add a person’s driving record – traffic tickets and DUI? How about adding criminal background? Travel history? Instead of using a driver’s license to prove identity, why not the convenience of E-Verify? Incidentally, what was the transaction associated with that E-Verify check? That should go in your database record too. Then the government would know everything you buy.

Do we have an illegal immigration problem? Sure we do. Even though immigrants take jobs most American citizens won’t perform, if we have laws we ought to enforce them. The solution must include the illegal cross-border traffic. I remain unpersuaded that duplicating Hadrian’s Wall or the Great Wall of China at a cost of $4 million per mile for 2,000 miles is the right solution when we have the ability to read a license tag from a spy satellite.

But this blog isn’t about the immigration debate. It’s about freedom and privacy and their gradual erosion by a central government that is growing too powerful. If the solution to the immigration problem is less freedom and less privacy, it’s too expensive. We have to find a different solution.

E-Verify is another government meat-axe solution: “Better to let the innocent suffer than the guilty escape.” In order to prevent eight million illegals from working, 150 million have to comply with rules intended for those eight million. If either the government or employer makes a mistake in data entry, it’s the employee’s problem to straighten it out.

We’ve seen the meat-axe approach before. The Transportation Security Administration puts every person through the hassle of having to arrive early to allow time for security delays. No one is exempt from the intrusive groping including the ridiculous searching of crying children and blue-haired grammas. But to avoid “profiling” and in the name of political correctness, let’s not focus on the travelers who any intelligent person would suspect.

ObamaCare is another meat-axe government solution. It will destroy a healthcare system that worked for 270 million people because 40 million were uninsured. I didn’t say 40 million were denied healthcare. Everyone had access to healthcare even if it was delivered in a hospital emergency department. But remove from the 40 million those who are temporarily uninsured because they are between jobs or unemployed for less than 12 months. And remove those who are voluntarily uninsured because they are young and healthy and money spent on insurance could buy a flat screen TV. Remove those two groups and there are only 10 million truly uninsured. We could have found a more cost effective way to care for those ten million. But the meat-axe won out.

Procedures are required for citizens to leave or reenter the country. These procedures not only give the government knowledge of our comings and goings, but also potentially put government in the position to prevent our travel. Has government used that power? Not yet.

We can’t withdraw large sums of our cash from our bank accounts without government knowledge. There are limits on the amount of cash we can take out of the country. The government gets involved when we open a bank account, take out a loan, and are issued a credit card.

E-Verify is another step toward greater government control of every aspect of our lives.