Posted by Helen.Kim.Ho on 3/31/11
Georgia’s Mandatory E-Verify Bills: No Purse-Strings Attached
As Georgia’s competing Arizona-style bills wind their way through the Gold Dome, mandatory E-Verify provisions remain intact. House Bill 87 and Senate Bill 40 require most private employers to use E-Verify or risk criminal liabilities and losing their business licenses. E-Verify is an online system which allows employers to check the legal status of new hires through multiple databases managed by different, autonomous federal agencies. Although big business lobbyists have had some of their concerns heard, small business interests have been largely overlooked by policy makers.
Small businesses make up almost 98% of all employers in Georgia, generate 64% of net new jobs nationally over the past 15 years, and account for over 45% of private-sector jobs in Georgia according to the US Small Business Administration. “While many citizens in Georgia may not care about the economic loss to agriculture or big industries, Georgians will care when they lose their jobs because the small businesses they work for shut down or lay them off,” said Helen Kim Ho, Executive Director of AALAC. Restaurants, retailers, grocery stores, hotels, other medium to small businesses and their workers will be harmed by mandatory E-Verify.
Mandatory E-Verify disproportionately flags legal immigrant workers, is unable to successfully ferret out undocumented workers, and is simply not ready for primetime. Just as important, Georgia has no control over how E-Verify is funded or managed. Georgia legislators are poised to pass a mandate that the federal government may not have the resources to implement, placing the burdens of a flawed federal system directly on businesses. Even at the state level, Georgia legislators have so far failed to attach a fiscal note to ensure employers are participating in E-Verify which means unscrupulous employers will likely get away with hiring undocumented workers while good employers suffer extra burdens and lose their competitive edge. “Because small businesses operate with the slimmest profit margins if any, E-Verify will impose extra costs that will seriously hamper the ability of these store owners to stay open for business,” said Willy Blanco, President of the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce of Georgia.
The federal government has not budgeted funds for mandatory use. The federal government, just like our state government, has limited funds and has only budgeted for voluntary E-Verify use. The federal government has currently allocated funds for E-Verify through September 2012. US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has also provided an estimate of $508 million to run a non-mandatory E-Verify program through 2020, after which time USCIS anticipates E-Verify will have to be replaced. If Georgia mandated E-Verify use, the number of employers and workers using the system would increase exponentially while the operational budget for E-Verify would likely remain the same. All the delays and liabilities resulting from insufficient resources would fall on Georgia businesses and workers.
Mandating Georgia business owners to use E-Verify would almost double the number of employers that currently participate in the program. Approximately 222,000 employers throughout the nation used E-Verify last year according to the Government Accountability Office. If House Bill 87 or Senate Bill 40 were passed, approximately 180,000 Georgia employers would be required to participate in this program. That would nearly double the total number of employers currently participating in E-Verify which would create a huge additional workload on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Social Security Administration (SSA).
USCIS and SSA — the two main groups that coordinate E-Verify checks – have yet to enter into an agreement to ensure smooth and continuous service. DHS has three work eligibility databases including the USCIS database, and SSA has its own Numident database. Because each agency operates independently of each other, it is critical that these agencies be in agreement before requiring employers to use this system. These agencies have yet to sign a service level agreement to ensure they can meet capacity demands and provide continuous service to employers.
USCIS has limited authority to investigate employer misuse and no authority to impose penalties against unscrupulous employers. Mandatory E-Verify will not successfully ferret out employers that knowingly hire undocumented workers, one of the main purposes cited by Georgia policymakers. USCIS can terminate an employer’s access to E-Verify for misusing E-Verify, and refer suspected employers to ICE for further investigation. However, ICE officials determined that not a single E-Verify case referred by USCIS warranted a full investigation of the suspected employer because no significant threats or egregious violations were found (Dec. 2010 GAO report). Because the system is not set up to detect fraud or identity theft, E-Verify will not successfully identify bad employers or workers.
Mandatory E-Verify could result in an increase in employment discrimination claims against employers, and less overall compliance. Mandatory E-Verify will place even those employers willing to participate in a bad position: partial or noncompliance with E-Verify could result in a USCIS investigation, and “over” compliance could result in employment discrimination claims and investigations. In Arizona where a mandatory E-Verify law was recently passed, an independent Westat report found Arizona employers had an average compliance score below that of employers in other states. In 2006, Swift (a meat processing company) was raided by ICE for illegal hiring after it was sued by the federal government for “going too far” in ascertaining new hires’ employment eligibility (36 Rutgers Computer & Tech. L.J. 137).
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