David R. Henderson  

E-Verify: Let's Make Us More Like Europe

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One of the main things the United States has going for it is its relatively fluid labor market, relative, at least, to labor markets in much of Europe.

I wrote over 20 years ago about the Europeanization of the U.S. labor market, but I did not see E-Verify coming. E-Verify, if implemented nationwide, would be a system of work permits. If you started a new job, you would need the federal government to verify that you are legally allowed to have that job. How long would it be before the government started making judgements about who should be allowed to work? Convicted sexual predators, even those who were, say 19, and sleeping with a consensual 16-year-old, have to register for life and are told that they can't live in certain parts of a city. Is it entirely inconceivable that some would ultimately be told that they can't work?

Even if you don't fear that, Cato Institute immigration policy analyst David Bier has shown how bad the E-Verify system is. It makes a lot of mistakes and those mistakes cause completely legal people to lose jobs. Here's a snippet from his recent report:

The system has already proven remarkably ineffective at its intended purpose--keeping unauthorized workers away from jobs. In fact, in many cases, it does the opposite--keeping authorized workers away from employment. While many have focused on how making it mandatory would increase the number of these errors, E-Verify is already causing headaches and costing jobs for legal workers. In fact, from 2006 to 2016, legal workers had about 580,000 jobs held up due to E-Verify errors, and of these, they lost roughly 130,000 jobs entirely due to E-Verify mistakes.

So even if the feds never get really, really nasty to U.S. citizens and permanent residents, E-Verify would slow down adjustments and make our labor markets more rigid. Sad.

Comments and Sharing

CATEGORIES: Labor Market , Regulation

COMMENTS (14 to date)
pyroseed13 writes:

Sorry, but David's own numbers show E-Verify works for 99.8% of the population. It's ridiculous to assert that something must be 100% accurate in order for it to be worth doing. Libertarians are opposed to E-Verify not because they think it won't work, but because they know it will.

john hare writes:

I think you missed a step there. That is a much higher percentage of people that are trying to get a job as opposed to the entire labor force. As an employer, I am against everything that makes it more difficult for me to hire qualified employees.

If that number of innocent people were arrested and imprisoned, would it be okay because it was only 0.02% of the population?

Jon Murphy writes:

...E-Verify would slow down adjustments and make our labor markets more rigid...

...Making it harder for immigrants to get work, thus making it harder for them to assimilate into American life, thus increasing demands for limiting immigration and more methods like E-Verify, thus making it harder for immigrants to get work...

It's a vicious cycle. It has to end. The only verification that should matter is what an employer and potential employee think.

Thaomas writes:

@ Jon Murphy

100% agreement on the vicious circle! Why do opponents of immigration never propose things to reduce the costs/speed assimilation? To me,although they often couch their opposition in nationalistic/"patriotic" terms, they lack faith in their country.

Tom DeMeo writes:

It seems we either allow unregulated open borders, or we allow the government the means to be competent at regulating work visas.

Can we really just stay in the middle, with a messy dysfunctional system with conflicting goals?

Robert writes:

Basing decisions upon a standard of having zero is tantamount to making sure there are no standards and no restrictions etc. E verify while not perfect is very usable and should be strengthened and used as the law of the land. Its benefits are numerous , not the least of which is a notice to all potential illegals that jobs {the big immigration engine} isn't available like in past decades. Immigrate legally or plan on living in the shadows and having a very low quality economic existence. That is a very positive outcome for all legal residents.

David Seltzer writes:

In effect the government is deputizing, with force, the private citizen to do the fed's job. What's next? A National ID card? If abused, a National ID binds the individual to the state by controlling access to life, liberty and political freedom.

Jaime L. Manzano writes:

The e-verify system largely builds on the social security system that assigns ID numbers. Presently, assigning numbers begin at birth in U.S. hospitals, or when needed for employment. When individuals cross the border, their citizenship is verified. If not Americans, their citizenship is recorded, and an I.D. is assigned, and their legal status is captured. When naturalized, individuals would have an SSA number already. Their status is updated. Death certificates are used to keep the SSA file current. The system is not without problems, but it works surprisingly well for the vast number of individuals within the country. It serves, not only SSA, but also other institutions - immigration, taxes, banks, mortgage loans and titles, police records, health records, etc. It could be used to verify legal voters, and avoid voter fraud. With care, the data would lend itself to census and population research, economic studies, tracking the spread of diseases, and more, while preserving the privacy of individual records. The utility of the data, be it for a service, or research are clearly extensive. Improving its accuracy and utility seems to be worth pursuing. To cast the system negatively may be a disservice to the nation.

Hazel Meade writes:

The notion that people should have to have the government's permission to work offends the principles that America was founded on.

It also contradicts the assertion of anti-immigration advocates that immigrants are coming here to take advantage of welfare.

If they're coming here for welfare, why do you need so so much enforcement aimed at preventing them from getting jobs?

LD Bottorff writes:

I have never understood e-verify. We already have a Social Security system. If you have a valid Social Security number, you can work. If you don't have one, you shouldn't be working.

That may offend your libertarian sensibilities, but most Americans understand that in order to have a working Social Security system, we need to have people paying into it.

And if people use someone else's Social Security number, they should be prosecuted for identity theft.

pyroseed13 writes:

@John Hare

The argument is equivalent to saying we shouldn't have a criminal justice system because sometimes people are wrongly convicted. People are already wrongly imprisoned. We should work to minimize that number to the best of our ability.

Also, it would be helpful to know why exactly those legal workers were denied employment. If for instance, I change my name due to marriage or divorce but fail to update my SS records, I will be denied employment under E-Verify. But that's not a failure of E-Verify. In other words, the actual error rate reported here may be even smaller than noted.

Hazel Meade writes:


Having a job is not an activity that is harmful to others. We prosecute criminals because they cause harm. Why do we stop people from working?

Warren Meyer writes:

I can imagine far worse than that in today's society. One must complete a certain number of hours of training and pass a series of tests to get a driver's licence. How long before someone suggestions mandatory diversity testing and a woke-ness test before being allowed to work?

Ed Roberts Jr writes:

@pyroseed13: No, mismatched SSA records are still a failure of E-Verify if the system gives the worker no meaningful opportunity to rectify their lapse. Haven't you ever forgotten to file some piece of paperwork, and wouldn't you have appreciated a reminder to do so, rather than be summarily fired? According to the linked report, most employers don't pass on to the worker the initial notification that there was a mismatch, and of the few that do, often the worker doesn't have sufficient time to correct the problem before the second notification that means firing.

As a tax preparer with several Hispanic clients, I often have to retry e-filing a return with a different way of formatting the long names they often have, to get them to match SSA's records. I'm glad that the IRS, evil though it is, allows retries, rather than simply denying the client's refund if the first attempt didn't match.


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