David R. Henderson  

Nowrasteh on E-Verify

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In reality, E-Verify will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of legal Americans to get a job. According to a recent independent audit of E-Verify conducted by the firm Westat, between 0.7 to 0.3 percent of all E-Verify queries produced erroneous TNCs [tentative non confirmations], meaning they were issued to legal workers. If 150 million American workers were run through E-Verify tomorrow, somewhere between 450,000 and slightly more than 1 million American workers would be notified that if they do not address the problem then they will lose their jobs. Those American(s) would then have to correct any inconsistencies before the government gave them clearance to be employed full time. That hardly seems fair for these legal workers.
This is from Alex Nowrasteh, "The Economic Costs of E-Verify." The whole thing is excellent.

Alex's basis point is that E-Verify will reduce the fluidity of the U.S. labor market because it gives the federal government literal veto power over everyone, legal or illegal, who accepts a new job. And I use the word "literal" literally. If the government does not approve your getting the job, then you can't get the job until you show that you're legal. Not a problem? Alex writes:

If the worker and employer are unsuccessful in contesting the TNC, the worker is issued a final nonconfirmation (FNC) which means the worker MUST be fired. The Westat audit found that fully 6.3 percent of the FNCs issued are erroneous. In other words, E-Verify makes it illegal to hire some Americans.

Along with 9 other representatives of groups that are in the Peace Coalition of Monterey County, I met with our Congressman, Sam Farr, on Friday. The main purpose was to talk about war, but the discussion was wide-ranging and one of the topics was immigration. I told Sam that one of the things in the immigration bill I most objected to was E-Verify. Sam was not a fan either, but he stated that if other parts of the bill passed, the various immigrants who used to be illegal would not be illegal. I pointed out that that assumes the government makes no mistakes and that this is pretty heavy regulation of the labor market. I found it interesting that, according to Sam anyway, the big proponents of E-Verify are Republicans. I'm used to Democrats being the more aggressive assaulters of labor markets.

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COMMENTS (13 to date)
Chris Koresko writes:


I think the reason Republicans tend to support E-Verify is that while we are always suspicious of government's competence and efficiency, we tend to be rather trusting of its motives.

The attractiveness of E-Verify comes from the idea that it can help speed and regularize the process of selecting legitimate, legal applicants from among a pool which includes significant numbers of illegal aliens. This is analogous to the use of an in-shop database lookup to confirm that a potential gun purchaser is not a wanted felon. The interference with our liberties seems modest and acceptable to a lot of conservatives, even if there are occasional false rejections.

It doesn't necessarily occur to supporters that abuse of this system represents a potentially strong avenue for exerting broader federal control over the labor market (or over gun sales, for that matter).

If you as a libertarian want to sway conservatives away from supporting E-Verify, I can't think of a better approach than to point out the potential for abuse. A sub-1% error rate doesn't sound that bad, especially if (one imagines) it shouldn't be worse than a few hours' hassle to get it fixed when it occurs.

MikeP writes:

A sub-1% error rate doesn't sound that bad...

A sub-1% error rate on legal workers is 1 million legal workers. E-Verify is intended to catch 8 million illegal workers.

Thus 1 out of 9 workers flagged by E-Verify are flagged incorrectly. And it's that low only if it captures illegal workers perfectly.

That is horrendous.

MikeP writes:

Of course, it's much worse than 1 out of 9.

Nowhere close to 100% of illegal workers will even put themselves in a position to be caught by E-Verify, while every legal worker will.

So the errant flagging rate of E-Verify is more like 1 in 5 or 1 in 4.

Milton Recht writes:

This is type 1 error, incorrectly rejecting a legal worker. There will also be type 2 errors of incorrectly verifying (accepting) illegal workers as legal. There is a trade-off between the two error rates. Usually decreasing the rate of one type of error, increases the rate of the other type of error.

The policy issue is do we want to see more legal workers rejected in order to deny more illegal workers employment, or do we want to allow more illegal workers to work in order to see fewer legal workers rejected?

There will never be a 100 percent accurate verification system. The press will embarrass politicians with both errors, illegal workers allowed to work and legal workers denied work.

8 writes:

If you want to sway Republicans away from E Verify, come out in support of deporting illegal immigrants. If they are stopped at the border or tracked down by ICE, there's no need for E Verify.

Handle writes:

It's a shame Nowrasteh couldn't link to the Westat study, it'd be especially nice to see their raw data and read the methodology. E-Verify application are as easy as any application in American society so long as you've got valid documents and aren't part of an identity-sharing conspiracy. But notice this:

'The TNC rate for American citizens, a subset of legal workers, has fallen from 0.6 percent to 0.2 percent – a commendable improvement. However, the error rate for permanent lawful residents on green cards and visa holders has increased from 1.5 percent to 2 percent.'

A 0.2 percent (and rapidly improving) error rate for American citizens for only tentative flags, which the article admits could have been caused by the clerk mistyping the query, and which can be corrected by correct typing or with a tiny amount of additional supporting documentation is not a danger to the fluidity of the US labor market.

Sorry, that's a hyperbolic claim. I didn't notice what the total erroneous FNC rate was for American citizens. It seems the problem is actually in just 2 percent of likely recently-legalized immigrants, and even then, just tentatively. That's unfortunately high, but not crazy seeing how it takes time for people to get their information into various databases (as we've seen with Obamacare). And, again, that's only tentative.

'Worse, the average E-Verify query costs a business $147 – mainly because businesses will have to spend legal resources to clear their employees who receive TNCs.'

If you know any agricultural E-verify using employers you can easily verify that figure for the average of what they spend on queries is utterly false.

Think about it, let's say you only hire green-card holders, and you get a 2% TNC error rate. So, 1 out of 50 of your guys gets kicked back needs to produce a document or retype his app. So, you multiply the average cost of a query (free in many states) by 50. You really think the employer pays $7,300 dollars to address every TNC?

Hazel Meade writes:

It's morally wrong to demand that people ask permission before accepting a job anyways.

Human beings have a basic human right to work to support themselves. They shouldn't have to ask anyone for permission to exchange labor for money.

Thomas Boyle writes:

What Hazel Meade said.

And that goes for the low-income worker exclusion rule, too (that's the "minimum wage" for those who support it).

Thomas DeMeo writes:

Validating legal working status is the only conceivable way to control illegal immigration.

We have crappy government in large part because we make it impossible for it to work. We don't allow the government to develop an accurate identification system and thus distinguish citizens from non-citizens, but most of the country wants the federal government to enforce immigration laws anyway.

Daublin writes:

I have had trouble with E-Verify negative results. I hired a foreign intern, and the intern spelled their apartment address incorrectly on some of their paperwork. The DHS sent the person a latter saying they needed to leave the country immediately.

It was scary, and it was a waste of national resources. We beat it eventually, but it wasn't clear whether we would manage to do so or not.

I don't feel safer because of E-Verify. It makes ordinary business decisions subject to having the feds swoop in with handcuffs.

johnleemk writes:


That'll teach you to give a job to a good-for-nothing foreigner! Don't you know you have an obligation to your fellow citizens to only hire citizens?

MikeP writes:


johnleemk is right. Be thankful we have a crappy government or you might have found yourself in prison for trying to employ someone who wasn't endowed by our creator with the unalienable right to work where you want to hire him.

Andrew_FL writes:

@Chris Koresko

I think the reason Republicans tend to support E-Verify is that while we are always suspicious of government's competence and efficiency, we tend to be rather trusting of its motives.

Speak for yourself. I consider myself a conservative and am a registered Republican. I have no trust whatsoever in the motives of the government. I'm not sure why anyone would.

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