Feds defend E-Verify system
Databases reject too many legal workers, critics tell Congress.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 06/11/08

Washington — The nation's top immigration official on Tuesday defended a federal system — known as E-Verify — that allows businesses to check the legal status of workers.

"E-Verify is the best available tool for employers to gain quick and easy verification information for their new hires," said Jonathan Scharfen, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Scharfen testified before the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law amid concern the system could reject legal citizens.

E-Verify is voluntary in most states, but several proposals in Congress would make it a requirement for all U.S. businesses.

Using the Internet-based E-Verify system, an employer can check within seconds whether employees are legal by comparing their information with electronic government records at the Social Security Administration and Homeland Security.

If the information doesn't match, the employee can correct the paperwork, often through a trip to a Social Security office.

Scharfen said 69,000 businesses are using E-Verify and that 99.5 percent of all people authorized to work are verified immediately.

Democratic lawmakers questioned the statistic. They pointed to a study last year by a private firm contracted by the Department of Homeland Security that showed about 10 percent of naturalized citizens received a "mismatch" from the system, often because they had not updated their citizenship status.

Scharfen said improvements in the system, including adding the use of another database that includes data on naturalized citizens, have improved the results.

Even with a small error rate, millions of U.S. citizens and legal residents could be initially rejected for work if the program is implemented nationwide, said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.).

Timothy Sparapani, senior legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the system would entangle workers in "a massive knot of government red tape and bungling bureaucracy to get hired and resolve inevitable data errors."
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