Meisinger Urges Congress To Replace E-Verify System

By J.J. Smith May 8, 2008
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Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) President and CEO Susan R. Meisinger, SPHR, urged Congress to replace the current federal system for verifying employment eligibility with a system already in place in the states that tracks parents who are delinquent in child support payments.

The employee authorization plan supported by SHRM would be implemented under the proposed New Employee Verification Act (NEVA) (H.R. 5515)—introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas—Meisinger said at a May 6, 2008, House Subcommittee on Social Security hearing on the impact employment verification will have on the Social Security Administration.

NEVA is designed to transform the current paper-based verification process into a state-of-the-art electronic system that is accurate, reliable, cost-efficient, easy-to-use and that shares responsibility among government, employers and employees, she said.

If NEVA were to become law, all U.S. employers would be required to participate in one of two electronic employment verification systems by enrolling through their state’s existing “new hire” reporting program, originally designed to enhance child support enforcement under the Welfare to Work Act of 1996, Meisinger said. The new hire reporting program is an electronic portal already used by 90 percent of U.S. employers, which is an improvement over the 60,000 employers currently using the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) E-Verify program on a voluntary basis, she added.

The head of SHRM joined four current members of the House, a former House member, a government official and three other business organization representatives who testified about three employee verification bills. The other two bills and their sponsors are:

  • H.R. 19, introduced by Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., which requires that employers use E-Verify and sets a seven-year phase in of the full program.

  • H.R. 4088, the proposed Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement Act (SAVE Act), introduced by Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., which requires that employers use E-Verify and sets a four-year phase in of the full program.

Calvert said that without the E-Verify system, there is no tool available for employers to determine if a credential provided by an employee is fraudulent. By making E-Verify mandatory, employers have a way to check that an employee’s name and Social Security number match government work authorization records, he said. Of the millions of queries run through the computer-based E-Verify system, 92 percent of employees are instantly verified, and those given a tentative non-confirmation have eight business days to contact the Social Security Administration or DHS regarding their cases, he said. Currently, 1 percent of all queried employees choose to contest an E-Verify result; of those about half are successful. “E-Verify is doing the job it was intended, denying employment to people in the United States not authorized to work,” he said.

Shuler said E-Verify outlines fair and proper methods of using the system in multiple languages to protect employees from discriminatory hiring practices. E-Verify gives employers the tools they need to comply with immigration laws and to avoid the penalties that result from hiring illegal aliens, he said. In addition, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano signed the Legal Arizona Workers Act, making E-Verify mandatory, he said.

However, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., a co-sponsor of H.R. 5515, tells SHRM Online that “Arizona companies are finding E-Verify to be costly, complicated and unreliable.” Arizona’s experience with E-Verify makes it clear that employers need a reliable, effective and balanced employee verification system, said Giffords, who also commented on improvements to E-Verify that DHS announced on May 5. The improvements include:

  • The addition of naturalization data to help instantly confirm the citizenship status and naturalization of U.S. citizens.

  • Real-time arrival data to reduce the number of immigration-status-related mismatches.

  • Plans to initiate sharing of citizenship status records with the Social Security Administration to help prevent tentative non-confirmations from occurring.

Arizona’s business leaders are very vocal about the fact “that mandating E-Verify nation-wide for all employees would be disastrous,” Giffords said. She added that “many Arizona business owners don’t have Internet access, and E-Verify mandates that all employers use the Internet to go through the verification process,” she said.

The system proposed under H.R. 5515 would allow employers to phone in an employee’s information, Giffords said. So, in addition to the issues that DHS has announced improvements to, there are a variety of real practical problems that Arizona employers, and employers around the country, will have to deal with. Based on Arizona’s experience, it is clear that any employee work authorization system should include several elements that are part of H.R. 5515, she said. Those elements are:

  • Explicit pre-emption of state laws such as the one in Arizona.
  • Liability protections for employers who play by the rules.
  • Privacy protections for U.S. citizens and legal workers.
  • Limited scope: only new hires.
  • Use of an existing system for data entry such as the child support tracking system.
  • Social Security safeguards.

The effect E-Verify might have on efforts to reduce the backlog of SSA’s disability cases is what concerns House Social Security subcommittee Chairman Michael McNulty, D-N.Y. For example, will the SSA field offices be able to handle the massive workload of clearing up mismatched worker data should E-Verify be expanded quickly, he asked. SSA is struggling to reduce a massive backlog of disability claims—a backlog that in some cases has been years—and there are concerns that imposing substantial immigration-related workloads on SSA would potentially “swamp the agency” and threaten its ability to serve those citizens who rely on Social Security and Supplemental Security Income for basic income, he said.

J.J. Smith is manager of SHRM Online’s Global HR Focus Area.

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