Florida Republican candidates for governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Bill McCollum called Tuesday for increased usage of e-Verify in Florida, despite a study released in January 2010 and contracted by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) that shows that 54 percent of unauthorized workers were found to be authorized anyway. Scott called for all employers in Florida to be required to use e-Verify, while McCollum wrote a letter (.pdf) to Gov. Charlie Crist asking him to use e-Verify for all state agencies, and to study using it for all state contractors.

USCIS’s e-Verify is an Internet-based system that employers use to check work authorization in the U.S. An employer enters information from an employee’s I-9 form, and that information is checked against information from the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration. The usage of e-Verify increased eightfold from 2005 to 2008 and, for FY2009, 8.5 million queries were run (.pdf) each week.

Though checking an employee’s date of birth, Social Security number and citizenship status would seem simple enough, a study (.pdf) by Westat, a Rockville, Md.-based government research contractor, showed that the program was not reliable for catching unauthorized workers. Overall, almost 94 percent of checks were made on authorized workers, and e-Verify validated 93.1 percent of them. (An employee could contest the results of a check, if he thought the result was due to error.) However, of the 6.2 percent of checks on unauthorized workers, 54 percent of those (3.3 percent overall) were found to be work-authorized. Due to the small sample size, that figure could plausibly be between 37 and 64 percent. Even so, it means the system is not accurate for doing what politicians call for it to do — to catch illegal immigrants working.

(Source: Westat)

In the current polarized immigration debate, there is some bipartisan agreement on e-Verify. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, who as governor of Arizona signed a bill in mandating e-Verify for all employers, called it “a smart, simple and effective tool that reflects our continued commitment to working with employers to maintain a legal workforce,” in a statement on July 8, 2009. President Obama signed an executive order in July 2009 mandating that government contractors use e-Verify to check the identity of about 4 million workers, a scaled-back version of a Bush administration executive order that would have pressured companies to fire 9 million workers or face huge fines. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabam) has supported amendments — none of which have passed —mandating e-Verify for all federal contractors.

Currently, only Arizona and South Carolina require usage of e-Verify for all public and private employers, while 11 states require it for either state agencies or state contractors, or both, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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