The new immigration reform bill approved by the Senate last week mandates that employers check a government database called E-Verify to confirm that all of their new hires are legally eligible to work in the U.S. First launched in 1996, E-Verify compares employees’ names, social security numbers, and passport photographs with Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records.  

e-verify.jpgIn the past, E-Verify checks have been voluntary for all employers except certain federal contractors and sub-contractors.  This would change if the immigration bill is enacted into law in its present form.  The law would apply to all employees, not just non-citizens.

Fine so far, but the problem with mandatory E-Verify checks is that databases make mistakes (see our post Low-Cost Background Checks Ruin Lives).  According to Department of Homeland Security statistics, E-Verify has a 1.35 percent error rate. While this may not seem like much, it resulted in 221,155 “tentative nonconfirmations,” as the DHS calls them, in 2012 alone.

The number of nonconfirmations will, of course, be much larger if all workers’ employment eligibility must be verified.  If an employee receives a nonconfirmation, he or she has only eight days to contest the finding.  The majority of people who receive non-confirmations do not contest them. 

In an effort to reduce the number of work-eligible individuals who lose their jobs due to E-Verify errors, the DHS is implementing new mechanisms to encourage employees to take action if they erroneously receive a TNC. Just today, the DHS began sending employees who voluntarily provide their email address on their Form I-9 automatic email notifications if they are issued a TNC. Employers still have the obligation to notify the employee and to assist them in contesting the TNC, but employees are no longer entirely reliant on their employer to timely provide them with information regarding ther E-Verify status. 

The DHS is also encouraging job seekers to use its Self Check service. Self Check permits employees to verify their own work eligibility status in E-Verify and rectify any problems with their records before they begin work. Self Check is a free service, and it is available in English or Spanish.

None of these new initiatives improve E-Verify’s error rate.  They also assume a certain level of computer literacy by users, and they place the onus entirely on individuals, rather than employers or the government, to minimize the chance that they will be forced out of their jobs.  Mandatory E-Verify checks still run the risk of ruining thousands of peoples’ lives every year by jeopardizing their ability to work in the U.S., even if they are U.S. citizens who have never set foot outside the country.

As long as a database says they are illegal, they have just eight days to correct the record.

We recently encountered a similar situation in which bad database records nearly kept a client of ours from getting a much-needed job.  This person’s employer used an online background check service to see if our client had a criminal record.  The database falsely reported that our client had been convicted of several crimes in another state. 

We always begin our investigations by searching commercial databases and by consulting public records. One of our databases reported the same crimes that had appeared in the employer’s background check.  By searching publicly available official police records, we were able to quickly and definitively determine that our client had no criminal history in the state concerned, and that the employer’s background check was wrong. 

We have said it before, but we’ll say it again: database information is not worth much without a human mind to interpret it.  Database reports and online searches contain countless errors and false information. An actual person needs to separate the wheat from the chaff.      

Fortunately, we were able to clear up the misunderstanding for our client and give him solid evidence to present to his employer affirming that he, in fact, had a clean record.  For the hundreds of thousands of people whose cases fall within E-Verify’s margin of error, their stories may not have such happy endings.