I am E-Verified

A month ago I read that Idaho was one of five states allowing residents to self-check their work authorization through the E-Verify system. I started to go through the process but then got paranoid and stopped.

It was perhaps an artificial paranoia: the feds already have my Social Security Number and I don’t even want another job. But I did live the first 16 years of my life with a typo in my SSN and frankly, I’m not keen on asking the government if I’m authorized to work. I think that should be between me and a potential employer. Also, I don’t like to take this guy’s advice. But in the name of journalistic curiosity, I went through the process again this morning and have huge news:

I am work authorized.

This morning, the House Judiciary Committee’s Immigration Policy and Enforcement Subcommittee is holding a hearing on HR 2164 [pdf], the so-called Legal Workforce Act. I say so-called because one of the prime arguments against the Act, which mandates employers nationwide to check new hires against E-Verify, a national employment eligibility database, is that it will just drive even more workers into the cash economy.

Luckily (sort of) Arizona has served as a lab for E-Verify since mandating the database checks a few years ago. The National Immigration Law Center testified this morning [pdf] as to Arizona’s experience, arguing that:

  1. Only 1/3 of Arizona employers have complied with the mandatory e-check.
  2. Arizona income tax collections dropped 13 percent [pdf] after E-Verify became law there, but sales tax collections only dropped 2.5 percent for food and 6.8 percent for clothing, showing that workers were still earning money and spending it, but that income was not showing up on the tax rolls.
  3. American citizens are frequently caught up in the e-bureaucratic web and then have to fight for their right to work. By NILC estimates, between 480,000 and 1.3 million people authorized to work in the U.S. will be flagged by E-Verify and have to deal with correcting their records.

Arguments that is has hurt small businesses by forcing them to take an extra step on hires is probably valid for some, but I found the self-check process to be pretty quick and easy. It took less than five minutes. First, an outside vendor verified my identity by presumably looking up my name, address and birthday in its own databases and then asking me a series of questions about myself: I had to verify that I used to live on Guerrero Street in San Francisco and that my maiden name (?) was not that of my wife. Then it spits you back into the US Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Self-Check site, you enter your SSN and voila: you are work authorized. Or not.

I have to admit, I kind of wanted to be one of those flagged records so that I could go through the process of correcting my record for all of you. But alas …

There are lots of practical, political and philosophical problems with a national work authorization database, starting with how we define “work” and how we define “authorized.” But the biggest point that Congress should be considering is that no immigration enforcement action will work in a vacuum. As NILC Political Director Tyler Moran put it this morning:

NILC believes the key to good jobs for all workers is (1) reforming our immigration laws in a comprehensive and realistic way that also includes strengthening our labor, employment, and civil rights laws, and (2) vigorously enforcing these laws.Protecting the rights of all workers in this way will strengthen jobs and our economy. The Legal Workforce Act will do precisely the opposite.

Another very relevant point that has come to light in researching this book is that even people who are authorized to work in this country are facing blowback from the E-Verify push. One of the guys I’ve been interviewing for the book has a green card and is on his way to becoming a U.S. citizen, but he can’t find a job because employers either look skeptically at his green card, suspect his past undocumented status or—and this is his wife’s suspicion—avoid hiring Mexican workers, whether from personal bias or as a reaction to the national political climate. Or both.

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