08/27/2013 01:28 pm ET | Updated Oct 27, 2013

When a Job Is at Stake, Even One Mistake Is One Too Many

Think about it. Have you ever had to correct a serious mistake because of a computer error? Perhaps had to argue with a bank for wrongly charging a service fee? Try to convince someone that you really are who you say you are even though the computer screen disagrees because it has a different birthdate?

What if a computer said you were ineligible to work and cost you your job? That has happened to tens of thousands of workers and would happen to hundreds of thousands more under legislation being offered as part of immigration reform.

No one should lose a job and suffer financial and emotional hardship because of a computer error.

The Senate passed, and the House of Representatives is expected to consider, a plan to mandate all employers in the country to use E-Verify, an electronic employment verification system, to check workers' eligibility to work. E-Verify is primarily a voluntary program, although 20 states have mandated it for at least some employers in their states, and certain federal contractors are also required to use the program.

One of the immigration bills pending in the House is the "Legal Workforce Act." It does not include significant due process and worker protection provisions that are in the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate, which are necessary to prevent a computer error from standing between you and a job. Currently, there are no protections for workers affected by an E-Verify system error.

And there are errors. E-Verify has been used enough now to show cracks in the system that would dramatically worsen and throw people out of work if the program becomes mandatory, according to a new report by the National Immigration Law Center, based on independent studies of the program by Westat.

Workers -- often overlooked when legislation is developed -- already have suffered the consequences of E-Verify program errors. The error rate is worse for immigrant workers.
A Minnesota worker was fired after her boss received a "final non-confirmation notice," known as "FNC," because the Social Security Administration's (SSA) records listed her as a lawful permanent resident, not a U.S. citizen, even though she had become a citizen almost 20 years earlier. When her employer received a warning notice, the worker took her proof of citizenship to the local SSA office, but the agency did not update the E-Verify data base.

In Ohio, a 34-year U.S. Navy veteran -- a former captain with high security clearance -- was flagged by E-Verify as not eligible for employment. He and his wife had to hire an attorney, and it took two months to resolve the discrepancy.

Cases like these will multiply under a mandatory program, according to our analysis of the program.

A major problem with E-Verify is its proven track record of employer misuse and noncompliance, resulting in harm to workers, their rights, and their jobs.

For example, employers who fail to follow the rules are a significant cause of workers receiving final notices mistakenly stating that they are not authorized to work. Employers either do not inform workers of tentative notices that they may not be authorized to work, or of notices to follow up with the SSA or Department of Homeland Security. Moreover, a lack of proper monitoring of employers' compliance leaves no incentive for them to follow the rules.

When an employee gets a notice of noncompliance, there is not a system in place to contest the errors, causing great financial and emotional harm to workers and their families.

E-Verify also undermines labor and employment law and standards and renders workers more vulnerable to workplace abuse. The list of E-Verify's shortcomings goes on.

Clearly, E-Verify is not ready for primetime, and should not be imposed without commonsense immigration reform that would clarify the status of millions of immigrants who are part of our workforce by creating a road to citizenship and includes workers' labor and employment protections.

There also must be a formal review process so that U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and work-authorized individuals can correct E-Verify errors and maintain their jobs. Workers' rights should be protected under labor and employment law, and employers who abuse the system should be penalized.

Before E-Verify becomes mandatory as part of immigration reform, it must meet specified requirements regarding database accuracy, low error rates, and measurable employer compliance.

Only by having an accountable system can E-Verify begin to be a workable component of broad immigration reform that will enrich our nation.

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