KTEP - El Paso, Texas

'E-Verify' Background Check Program A Likely Part Of Any Immigration Reform

Jan 29, 2013
Originally published on February 4, 2013 12:29 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


And the borders are not the only focus of immigration enforcement. More and more businesses are using a system called E-Verify to check whether employees are legally authorized to work in the U.S. Both President Obama and the bipartisan working group of senators want to expand that, to make electronic verification mandatory nationwide.

For more on E-Verify, I spoke with Muzaffar Chishti. He's with the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute and he told us E-Verify has come a long way.

MUZAFFAR CHISHTI: I think I'm a convert on this issue. I was skeptical about employer sanctions as the right tool to enforce immigration law. And I think the pilot initially showed lots of error rates and we thought they would never be improved. And I think systematically they have been improving.

CORNISH: What were some of those initial concerns with E-Verify when it first started?

CHISHTI: E-Verify is a database that combines Social Security's database with the Immigration database. In the past, there were a lot of errors, so you would get false negatives or false positives. False negative would be if someone would actually be authorized to work but the system would say that he or she is not. And the false positive would be when someone actually is not authorized and the system would say they were authorized.

CORNISH: So let's explain briefly how it does work. Right now, if you're being hired by an employer who uses E-Verify, you present them with some form of ID. And then it gets checked in a computerized database. And what happens next?

CHISHTI: The employer looks at that and he feeds that information into the electronic database and eventually responds back, like your credit card company would respond back with an approval saying that, yes, this person is authorized or say that it's not authorized. And if it says it's not authorized, then the employee is given the right to go to Social Security Administration and get a verification that he or she is actually authorized to work.

CORNISH: Now, are there still problems with E-Verify, kind of loopholes? I mean, I can imagine that one could hand and employer any ID and say its them, and the employer doesn't necessarily know if you are the person who belongs to that particular ID.

CHISHTI: Exactly. The basic remaining drawback in E-Verify is about the identity. There is no way for the system to know that the person whose document is being presented is the person who is applying for the job. We haven't been able to perfect the biometric photo ability of the system. And for this to be a truly effective, foolproof system, the photo verification system has to improve.

CORNISH: Now, some are proposing that in the new immigration legislation E-Verify be expanded, possibly mandatory. What would that take?

CHISHTI: I think we are heading in that direction but it can't happen in a full sweep. I don't think E-Verify is ready for primetime. To say that we're going to move from 350,000 employers to eight million employers in the country is a big leap. And I don't think we're quite ready for that in one jump.

CORNISH: Muzaffar Chishti of the Migration Policy Institute, thank you so much for speaking with us.

CHISHTI: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.