More Ohio businesses using fed system to verify legal status

Local legislator has bill to require all Ohio employers use E-Verify

A growing number of Ohio’s businesses and organizations are using an employment-eligibility verification program to ensure theirs workers are U.S. citizens or have proper authorization to work in the country, according to a Dayton Daily News analysis.

About 5,466 employers in the state, including at least 520 in the Miami Valley, now use the federal E-Verify system, which is up 80 percent from just three years ago, according to federal data. E-Verify is an online tool that allows employers to determine whether their new hires are legally permitted to work in the United States by comparing their Social Security numbers and other information against government records.

Program participants and supporters said it is free, simple to use and prevents illegal immigrants from taking jobs away from lawful citizens.

“It has been a very good tool, and it is easy to use,” said Laura E. Schmidt, a professional in human resources with Projects Unlimited, a Dayton-based manufacturer of aerospace and defense components that uses E-Verify.

But critics said errors in the government databases utilized by the program can result in serious headaches or even job losses for legally authorized workers. Critics said also the verification program is ineffective because it is easy to circumvent.

Congress in 1996 established the E-Verify program as part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. The online program is available at no charge to employers, and it allows businesses and organizations to compare information on workers’ I-9 forms to hundreds of millions of immigration, passport and Social Security Administration records, said Daniel Cosgrove, spokesman with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Employers must use E-Verify for new hires, and they are not allowed to use it selectively or to screen job applicants.

About 98.3 percent of employees whose information was entered into E-Verify in fiscal year 2010 were confirmed as authorized to work instantly or within 24 hours, according to immigration services. But in some cases, the Social Security Administration or Department of Homeland Security data will not match the information submitted to employers, and E-Verify will then issue a notice of “Tentative Nonconfirmation.” Employees whose information is flagged are given a chance to contest the findings, because sometimes the information contained in the government records are wrong. Errors often occur because of typos during data entry and people forgetting to update their personal information.

But if the issues are not resolved, E-Verify issues a “Final Nonconfirmation” notice, and employers are free to terminate the workers.

E-Verify’s popularity is on the rise in Ohio. This year, about 5,466 employers that own about 36,900 worksites in the state used E-Verify, up from 3,023 employers with 20,780 worksites in December of 2009, according to federal data. Ohio employers ran checks on about 448,119 employees in fiscal year 2011, up 140 percent from 186,615 in 2009.

Ohio is home to an estimated 100,000 illegal immigrants, and most illegal immigrants move to this country in search of better economic opportunities.

But E-Verify helps companies and organizations ensure they are employing a legal workforce, and the program is fast, reliable and easy to navigate, said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies with the Center for Immigration Studies, a research institute in Washington, D.C., that supports tougher immigration enforcement.

“It gives employers a high level of confidence that the people they have hired are actually authorized to work,” she said. “It’s just another way to ensure that your employees are who you think they are.”

Local legislator pushes for program

The Center for Immigration Studies supports federally mandating all employers across the country to use E-Verify, and Vaughan said this would open up more job opportunities for legal workers while deterring illegal immigration.

At this point, some states have laws that require employers to use E-Verify, but participation in the program is voluntary in Ohio, except in the case of companies that have government contracts.

But state Rep. Courtney Combs, R-Hamilton, has co-sponsored a bill that would require all Ohio employers to use E-Verify. He said illegal immigration is a growing concern at a time when many Americans desperately need jobs, and his legislation — which recently had sponsored testimony — will make sure employers and employees are following labor laws.

“I don’t have anything at all against immigration or immigrants if they come here legally,” he said. “It’s a straightforward bill that says if you are here legally, then fine you can work here, but if you are here illegally, you can’t.”

But Michele Waslin, senior policy analyst with the Immigration Policy Center in Washington, said the E-Verify database is unreliable, because some government records contain errors. She said fixing the mistakes can be burdensome to workers, and failure to do so can lead to unfair job terminations. About 0.5 percent of workers receive an erroneous “Final Nonconfirmation” notice through E-Verify, and if E-Verify became mandatory, about 29,465 U.S. citizens and lawful workers in Ohio could have their employment status inaccurately flagged and lose their jobs as a result, according to the Immigration Policy Center. Waslin also said some employers illegally use E-Verify to pre-screen job applicants.

“If even one person is losing a job because of an error in a database — especially in this economy — then that’s a real problem,” Waslin said.

Mike Brickner, spokesman with the ACLU of Ohio, said E-Verify is a big step towards a national identification program, which has alarming privacy implications. He said putting so much information into one system is an invitation for data breaches and privacy issues.

“Back in 2009 in Minnesota, E-Verify unintentionally released the personal information of 37,000 individuals, because they did not have good authentication practices and there were problems with vulnerabilities in their web system,” Brickner said.

But Waslin said the biggest flaw of E-Verify is that it does not work. She said employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants will not use the program or will not run their information through the system. She said also the program is vulnerable to fraud, because it often cannot discern when employment documents are genuine and when they are stolen or borrowed.

About half of illegal immigrants and other unauthorized workers whose cases were submitted to E-Verify were found to be authorized to work, according to a 2009 report from Westat to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Waslin said the country needs real immigration reform to address the reality that the business model of many employers relies on illegal immigrants.