Stand up for facts and support PolitiFact.
Now is your chance to go on the record as supporting trusted, factual information by joining PolitiFact’s Truth Squad. Contributions or gifts to PolitiFact, which is part of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Poynter Institute, are tax deductible.
I would like to contribute
Backers of bills before the General Assembly argue that stopping illegal immigrants from working in Georgia can be as simple as pushing a few buttons.
Just type a new employee’s name into the website of the federal program E-Verify, which confirms whether he or she can work legally in the U.S. Some employers already use it, but Georgia should make it mandatory, backers argue.
Not so fast, critics say.
"There are some inaccuracies that exist within pilot programs such as E-Verify," cautioned David Raynor, a lobbyist for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, on Feb. 8 in a legislative committee meeting on one of the bills.
How bad is the error rate? State Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, a co-sponsor of the bill, asked Raynor.
"I don’t have it, Mr. Chairman, in front of me today. I know we’ve seen quotes from different reports that have shown anywhere from 50 percent all the way up to in excess of 80," Raynor replied.
That same day, Gov. Nathan Deal noted "there are questions being raised" about E-Verify’s accuracy.
Sounds bad, we thought. So, are there inaccuracies in E-Verify?
House Bill 87 and Senate Bill 40 would require many businesses to use E-Verify, which handled more than 16 million queries during fiscal year 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. SB 40 exempts farmers and other employers who participate in federal programs that allow noncitizens to work here legally.
An employer enters a new hire’s information, which E-Verify tries to match with records from the Social Security Administration and the DHS. If there’s a match and the worker is authorized, the employee stays.
If there’s no match, the system issues a "tentative nonconfirmation," which the employee can contest. If that challenge is unsuccessful, E-Verify issues a "final nonconfirmation," and the employee can be fired.
E-Verify, which was originally named the "Basic Pilot Program," is mandatory for federal contractors and employers in Arizona, Mississippi, South Carolina and Utah. In Georgia, public agencies and employers with public contracts must use it.
Now, on to our analysis. A chamber spokeswoman referred us to Kim Thompson, an Atlanta labor attorney who advises the chamber on E-Verify.
"I wouldn’t say the problems are necessarily significant, but there are problems," Thompson said. She said she has handled cases in which E-Verify failed to confirm legal workers, but the program’s accuracy has recently improved.
Thompson referred PolitiFact Georgia to the federal Government Accountability Office, which issued a report on the program in December, plus an audit of the program by independent contractor Westat, a research company.
Indeed, the GAO and experts for and against making E-Verify mandatory agree that the program has improved. It’s overwhelmingly accurate for authorized workers, but it fails to catch a large percentage of illegal ones.
The most current data says that overall, it was inaccurate between 2.3 and 5.7 percent of the time, according to Westat.
For legal workers, its error rate was between 0.6 percent and 1 percent, Westat found. But of the workers it thought may be unauthorized, 22 percent were actually legal.
E-Verify mistook legal, foreign-born workers for illegal ones 20 percent more often than it did for their U.S.-born counterparts, according to Westat. The system especially struggled with workers with Hispanic and Arab surnames, which means "increased potential exists for an adverse impact on individuals’ civil rights and civil liberties," the GAO warned.
Los Angeles County, which used the program, had a harder time with E-Verify. There, it was wrong 2 percent of the time, and 95 percent of the people it thought may be illegal workers turned out to be legal, according to the Migration Policy Institute, an immigration think tank that thinks mandating E-Verify may do more harm than good.
E-Verify’s biggest shortcoming was catching illegal workers. It cleared them to work an estimated 37 to 64 percent of the time. Illegal workers and shady employers often use fraudulent documents that E-Verify can’t detect, the GAO said.
Whether E-Verify is accurate enough to be mandated is up for debate.
"I would say that if it’s not ready now, it’s on the cusp of being ready," said Janice Kephart, an expert with the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for lower immigration levels.
Marc Rosenblum, an immigration expert with the Migration Policy Institute, told PolitiFact Georgia that E-Verify does little for employers since it fails to catch so many unauthorized workers. He concluded in a report this month that "E-Verify remains vulnerable to identity fraud and employer misuse, and offers no ability to detect off-the-books employment."
To sum up:
E-Verify is overwhelmingly accurate with legal workers but fails to identify a large percentage of illegal ones.
Indeed, as Raynor said, "there are some inaccuracies that exist" in E-Verify. But his suggestion the error rate ranges between 50 and 80 percent was too high.
E-Verify’s worst error rate -- for illegal workers -- is high, but it’s still well below what Raynor suggested. For all workers, it shrinks to 2.3 to 5.7 percent.
While Raynor’s main point was correct, he was wrong on important details about E-Verify’s overall accuracy. We therefore rule his statement Half True.
Georgia General Assembly State House of Representatives Judiciary Non-Civil Committee hearing, Feb. 8, 2011
The Washington Post, "As lawmakers look at E-Verify, businesses fear expansion of immigration program," Feb. 10, 2011
National Conference of State Legislators, "E-Verify: Frequently Asked Questions," revised Jan. 18, 2011
Westat, "Findings of the E-Verify Program Evaluation," December 2009
AJC.com, Political Insider blog, "Nathan Deal on illegal immigration: Questions raised about use of E-Verify," Feb. 8, 2011
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, "E-Verify User Manual for Employers," accessed Feb. 21, 2011
Center for Immigration Studies, "If It’s Fixed, Don’t Break It," September 2008
Migration Policy Institute, "E-Verify: Strengths, Weaknesses, and Proposals for Reform," February 2011
Interview, Kim Thompson, attorney, Fisher & Phillips LLP, Feb. 16, 2011
Interview, Janice L. Kephart, senior policy analyst, Center for Immigration Studies, Feb. 16, 2011
Interview, Marc Rosenblum, senior policy analyst, Migration Policy Institute, Feb. 21, 2011
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.