Leadership Journal Archive
October 12, 2007 - January 19, 2008

May 16, 2008

Debunking the “E-Verify Error Rate”

Everyone agrees that illegal immigrants cross our borders because they want to work here. If we can reduce the lure of illegal employment, we can reduce the pressure on our borders.

That’s exactly what E-Verify does. When an E-Verify employer hires a new worker, the employer gets on line and fills out a short electronic form. As soon as the employer hits “send,” the system checks to make sure that the worker’s name matches his Social Security Number. If the worker is not a U.S. citizen, the system also checks to make sure his work authorization is still valid and shows the employer the picture that should be on the DHS-issued identity card. For most workers, verification is instantaneous.

E-Verify is simple, free, and highly effective in preventing illegal work. It works, and maybe that’s what the interests arrayed against E-Verify don’t like. Whatever the reason, opponents of E-Verify have resorted to charges that just don’t hold up. In this series, I debunk the myths.


The opposition to E-Verify often claims that the program has a high error rate. Some critics claim that the error rate is as high as 4% and will lead to millions of Americans losing their jobs by mistake.

To see how wrong this claim is, we need to look more closely at how E-Verify works. We can draw a precise picture of what happens to a thousand applicants who use E-Verify by using data gathered from October 2006 to March 2007 by Westat, an independent reviewer.

1000 E-Verify Queries. 942 (94.2%) were Automatically verified. 5 (0.5%) Resolve mismatch and 53 (5.3%) had Final nonconfirmations.
Of the thousand, 942 are instantly verified. Instant verification of legal workers surely can’t be an error.

Fifty-eight are told that they have to do something more to establish that they are lawfully authorized to work. Usually this means they have to go to Social Security to correct the mismatch in name and number. (Typos and similar problems are cured on line, so legal workers usually have a problem only if they changed their names or citizenship status but failed to tell Social Security of the change.)

So five of the thousand must go to Social Security and straighten out their records. For 90% of them, the process takes less than 2 days. Is that an error rate? If so, it’s ten times lower than our critics claim. And, is it really an error to tell workers that their social security credits aren’t being properly recorded? Sooner or later, the worker will want to collect benefits, and they won’t want to face doubts about who earned the credits. (Of course, straightening out Social Security records isn’t fun, but we’re working to reduce the hassle. Just a few weeks ago, we introduced software changes that will automate some of the correction process, reducing the number of legitimate workers who have to go to Social Security offices from five to two or three per thousand.)

That leaves the 53 who walk away. Is that an error rate? There are certainly people who believe it’s an error to keep illegal workers out of the U.S. workforce. But we don’t. It’s our job to enforce the immigration laws.

And common sense suggests that the walkaways are overwhelmingly likely to be illegal workers. It’s just common sense that a legal worker wouldn’t want to walk away from a job he applied for--and has been offered if he straightens out his records. It’s just common sense that a legal worker wouldn’t walk away from the opportunity to correct Social Security records he now knows are wrong – records that will have to be corrected for him to get benefits. And it’s just common sense that about five percent of E-Verify workers would walk away, since a Pew Foundation expert recently estimated that 4.9% of U.S. jobs are held by illegal workers. It’s hard to see the walkaway rate as an error; in fact, that’s the program working as it should.

Stewart Baker
Assistant Secretary for Policy

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10 Comments:

  • The E-Verify System is a great thing! Every employer should be using it. We use here at work and it’s EASY, QUICK and COST EFFECTIVE. Absolutely no hassle at all!

    There is no good reason why any legitimate company employing legitimate people would not want to participate in this program.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At May 16, 2008 3:15 PM  

  • This E-verify program would be a great service for American citizens.

    I know, because I had a mistake on MY social security numbers years ago. I didn’t find out for a LONG TIME………and just because of that name error, I have now lost two years worth of my social security benefits I CANNOT EVER GET BACK.

    Let that be a lesson to you! This E-verify system will let you know if you have a mistake that you need to correct before it is just too late for you!

    Otherwise, you might not find out until it’s time to retire and you end up with no benefits.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At May 16, 2008 3:24 PM  

  • Have you told the people reading this site why you bring this up....

    Im guessing they dont know about HR 5515. This bill would RESCIND ALL THE STATE laws that have been recently passed. Such as Section 101

    Section 101(b)(2)(A), which reduced to simple language* would preempt and ban any and all state or local law for immigration-related issues enacted to impose employer fines or sanctions, or would forbid any laws requiring employers to verify work status or identity for work authorization. It would also prevent any unit of government from verifying status of renters, determining eligibility for receipt of benefits, enrollment in school, obtaining a business or other license, or conducting a background check.

    I urge all to contact Congressman Johnson and ask him about it.

    By Blogger mrbill, At May 16, 2008 10:10 PM  

  • You should not make the system mandatory until you know for sure that the walkaways are not authorized. Otherwise, this will be just another on DHS's long list of failures. TWIC, SBInet, FEMA.

    The stats from a pilot with only 27,000 employers using it in 2007 are not good enough to forcing 7.4 million employers to use it within a few years.

    The Westat report also found that many employers misuse the system, either by pre-screening or not telling the employee he has a tentative non-confirmation. So, how many of the 53 employees were never given the chance to correct SSA records? When you ask USCIS this question, they say they've created a new monitoring and compliance branch to check this type of employer behavior. Well, let's make sure we know exactly what to expect before spending billions and ruining thousands of lives.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At May 19, 2008 9:40 AM  

  • Atten. last poster.....
    all your so-called 'stats.' are wrong.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At May 19, 2008 4:05 PM  

  • At our company, anybody we have asked to clear-up an mistake in their social security number ( which rarely comes up at all!)usually just doesn’t bother to show up for work the next day!

    They do not even bother to collect their last paycheck…………they are obviously illegal aliens, otherwise they would take a few minutes and straighten the problem out with their social security number, rather than just running away.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At May 19, 2008 4:12 PM  

  • "E-Verify is simple, free, and highly effective in preventing illegal work. It works, and maybe that’s what the interests arrayed against E-Verify don’t like."
    ---------------
    And E-Verify is a massive power-grab at the federal level.

    Instead of taxing Americans when they work, the central government now gives "thumbs-up or thumb-down" on whether a person can work.

    Our rights are unalienable rights from God, not electronic privileges to be handed out by the federal government.

    But I know such fundamental principles are meaningless to powerful bureaucrats today.

    By Blogger John R., At May 20, 2008 9:56 AM  

  • The logic of this article is so flawed that it is an embarrasment to the department. The author should be the head of PR, not Policy.

    "Of the thousand, 942 are instantly verified. Instant verification of legal workers surely can’t be an error."

    This is simply not true. What if some who are instantly verified should not be? Errors are errors.

    "So five of the thousand must go to Social Security and straighten out their records. For 90% of them, the process takes less than 2 days"

    In the previous paragraph, the article was referring to 58, not 5. Those 2 days are days of lost work or vacation time. And the other 10%? Sure, 10% of five people (or even 58) is not a significant number. If you consider the results per, say, 1 million workers instead of 1,000, that small fraction becomes a significant number. 500 per million would have to spend more than 2 days resolving errors, and 5,000 per million would have to spend up to 2 days resolving problems. If all workers in the U.S. were to be verified under this system, (even discounting the other 53 per thousand neglected by the author), there would be so many people spending 2 days at social security offices as to cause the entire social security administration to grind to a halt. Who will pay for the resolution of these inquiries? Do you really think the time to resolve these problems will remain at two days or less if the scale of the problem is increased? And what happens when people are not able to resolve discrepencies in time? Employers will start firing them, and people will start suing employers for wrongful termination. If I were an employer, I would see E verify as a huge increase in potential liability from employee lawsuits. Oh, and did the author forget to mention that ICE uses information gained from employers' voluntary use of the program to turn around and raid their facilities, arrest their workers, and charge the employers with criminal violations?

    "That leaves the 53 who walk away. Is that an error rate?" Are those 53 necessarily illegal? Or did they lose patience and find another job where there was less hassle?

    This article is based on flawed reasoning, bad math, and a whole lot of unsupported assumptions.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At May 20, 2008 10:55 AM  

  • DHS can't even get 850,000 port workers to sign up for a TWIC card in one year. How the hell does anyone expect this agency to enroll 30,000 employers per week under a four-year mandatory roll-out?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At May 20, 2008 12:47 PM  

  • Common sense would dictate you get the denominator right when auditing the system. It's simply bad math to base a characterization of the accuracy of the system on the number of people who were able to successfully maneuver through the hoops, and simply assume the rest are illegals. I wouldn't trust any DHS agency to assume anything accurately about me.

    Here's the real statistic on current experience:

    "SSA officials told us that in fiscal year 2007, for every 100 E-Verify queries, 1.7 individuals contacted SSA, on average, about 1.5 times, or a total a total of 2.6 contacts per 100 queries."

    The problem is, the sample of employers used to get this result is too small to project what the results would be nationally.

    "In fiscal year 2007, USCIS processed about 3.2 million employer queries and for the first 6 months of fiscal year 2008, processed about 2.6 million
    queries. If participation in the E-Verify program were made mandatory, the program would have to accommodate all of the estimated 7.4 million employers in the United States. USCIS has projected that employers would submit an average of 63 million queries on newly hired employees per year under a mandatory E-Verify program."

    Common Sense: "These data on the results of initial E-Verify queries may not serve as a basis for projecting the number of queries that will be automatically confirmed or receive a tentative nonconfirmation under a mandatory E-Verify program."

    Richard Stana, Director of Homeland Security and Justice, GAO. Testimony at the Social Security Subcommittee Hearing on E-Verify, May 6, 2008.

    Common sense would dictate we control the pace of the roll-out to fix the problems before you screw things up for SSA and for American workers. Don't let this become another failed policy based on bad intelligence.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At May 21, 2008 2:47 PM  



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