Immigration Reform 2013: Gang Of Eight to Drop National ID Card From Bill

A group of senators working on a bipartisan bill to keep undocumented immigrants out of U.S. workplaces while finding solutions for offering temporary legal status to illegal workers are likely dropping the idea of a high-tech biometric ID card, citing high costs. Instead, the AP reports the four Republican and four Democratic senators in the immigration group will seek to expand E-Verify, a barely used program offered by the federal government which allows employers to run prospective workers' information through several government databases in order to ensure employment eligibility. Unlike the ID card, which would house fingerprints and other vital information in a built-in chip, E-Verify relies on manual input, and is thus prone to human error.

Currently, use of E-Verify is fairly low. The Department of Homeland Security reports that as of March 2012, 353,822 employers were enrolled nationwide. Arizona, Alabama, and Mississippi require all employers to use E-Verify. A number of other states require it for government agencies or for private employers with government contracts. California and Illinois have statutes limiting the use of E-Verify, with the former prohibiting municipalities from mandating enrollment and the latter prohibiting enrollment altogether until the system's accuracy issues can be resolved. 

These accuracy issues, accompanied by fears that required enrollment in E-Verify would discourage employers from hiring foreign but eligible workers, have civil rights groups pushing back against the program's implementation. In a talk with the CATO Institute, ACLU legislative counsel Christopher Calabrese addressed the program's pratfalls, citing the story of a U.S. citizen who lost her new job after information in E-Verify proved to be inaccurate. With an E-Verify rejection being notoriously difficult to contest, she ended up settling for a lower paying job. The problem with her records turned out to have been due to a misspelling of her name on the part of her employer. Because employers are prohibited from screening prospective workers through E-Verify prior to hiring, Calabrese says they may unfairly reject applicants with foreign-sounding last names just to avoid the hassle that an E-Verify error presents.  

According to a 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office, the office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has made significant improvements to E-Verify since 2008, but errors persist. At the time of the report, the system's accuracy rate was 97.4%, up from 92% in 2006. This still leaves a high potential for false negatives that would have a great negative impact on the lives of eligible workers. Because a vast majority of the system's errors come from issues of spelling and name consistency, foreign-born Americans and women who have changed their last names due to marriage are especially susceptible to falling victim to E-Verify's as-yet unresolved problems. Also likely to run into problems are persons who have been victims of identity theft. 

Because E-Verify is a system that relies on human input and is thus prone to human error and prejudice, the best thing to do in order to ensure equal employment opportunity for all eligible workers is to follow the lead of Illinois and hold off using the system until greater accuracy can be ensured, or a better system, such as a biometric ID card, can be implemented.