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E-Verify is a government-run national identification system that some U.S. employers currently use to verify the employment status of their new hires on a voluntary basis or a compulsory basis if they are federal contractors or operate in states with an E-Verify mandate. The Legal Workforce Act (LWA), which has passed the House Judiciary Committee on three occasions since 2012, would mandate that all employers use the program. In scope, LWA would surpass all other regulations in U.S. history, applying to every single employer and every single worker—illegal and legal—with deleterious consequences for both.
Proponents see E-Verify as an inexpensive silver bullet to end illegal immigration. But naturally, this technocratic dream fails to fit reality. As my colleagues’ recent study shows, E-Verify does slightly reduce unauthorized immigrant wages, but not nearly far enough to “turn off the jobs magnet.” Unsurprisingly, the market finds a way to connect willing workers with willing employers. However, while E-Verify fails to separate illegal workers from their jobs, it does manage to do exactly that for many legalworkers—U.S. citizens and work authorized immigrants.
The Census Bureau reports the number of new hires, almost 100 million in 2015, but LWA would also allow employers for the first time to voluntarily check their existing workers, a practice that the current regulations prohibit. This means that the number of E-Verify checks will exceed the number of annual hires that the Census records. Unfortunately, we cannot know by how much because it depends on the desire of employers to use this procedure, but it could raise the estimated number of new checks by tens of millions. For this estimate, I took the most conservative position and assume no company will check any of its existing employees.
The future error rate is more difficult to assess. The E-Verify system’s accuracy has improved over time, so this trend will likely continue as the bureaucracy, employers, and employees figure out the system. However, there is likely a natural floor beneath which the system cannot improve—perfect accuracy is almost certainly impossible (especially considering the causes of the errors). For this reason, it is unlikely that the error rates will continue to improve at the current rate indefinitely.