Skeptical About Obamacare’s Verification Systems? Be Skeptical About E-Verify

credit: louisiana / Foter / CC BY-NC-SAcredit: louisiana / Foter / CC BY-NC-SAIn the wake of the Obama administration’s decision to delay employer reporting, health insurance status, and income verification requirements for Obamacare’s state-run health exchanges, I expect we’ll see a lot of Republican politicians expressing skepticism about the federal government’s ability to develop and manage this sort of massive information technology project. Any such skepticism will be more than justified. But conservatives who worry about the federal government’s competence in this arena should extend their skepticism to another program, one that typically gets more Republican support: the E-Verify program that the GOP wants employers to use to verify an individual’s immigration status.

A voluntary version of E-Verify, which correlates a job applicant’s immigration status with his or her Social Security number, already exists. Only about 7 percent of employers use it, but even still, it’s the source of tremendous frustration for some individuals who are wrongly flagged as unauthorized to work. Here’s what happened to Jessica St. Pierre when she was hired into a high-paying telco job in 2010—that is, until E-Verify killed her new gig. As she wrote in The Hill last month:

In November 2010, I landed what I thought would be an exciting job in the telecommunications industry. I filled out routine paperwork, and expected to get started right away. 

I was shocked when the company’s HR department told me that an electronic system had flagged me as unauthorized to work in the United States. I promptly went to the Social Security Office, where I was told that there was no problem. Little did I know that the error was an administrative one that involved E-Verify, a system that I—like most American workers--knew nothing about. By the time the error was corrected, it was too late – I was already out of a job.

I didn’t know what E-Verify was or why it existed, but I knew my life would be changed forever. I had to figure out why my name was flagged by a government computer, while I worried about how to explain my termination to a perspective new employer. Three months later and after suffering much stress, I got a lower paying job. The computer mistakes still haunt me because I now fear it could happen again, if I ever look for another job.

It’s tough to pin down the exact error rate within the program. Supporters put the number around 1 percent, but a 2006 study by the Social Security Administration’s Inspector General suggests it’s around 4.1 percent. A national, mandatory expansion of the program could mean that about 1 in 25 new hires—perhaps 11,000 workers per day—end up being wrongly flagged. Even at a 1 percent error rate, you’re still looking at thousands of mistakes each day. And wrongly flagged individuals become embroiled in a long and time-consuming bureaucratic process. As the Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh told The Washington Post last month, figuring out which bit of personal information the government has gotten wrong can take months. 

Just as with Obamacare, there are also costs for small business. A 2011 Bloomberg Government report found that E-Verify could cost businesses $2.6 billion a year—with the largest share hitting smaller employers. In most cases, the system responds quickly, but in some instances it can take as much as two months to get information on new hires, which means big lags in the hiring process.

The parallels here are not perfect. Obamacare’s verification and reporting requirements are much more complex, and, if the delays announced last week are any indication, much more difficult to get up and running at all. But many of the basic objections are the same—that problems and errors inevitably arise when the government attempts to implement complex systems that attempt to comprehensively track and authorize large classes of individual behavior.  

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Let me assure you--I am skeptical of anything the government says or does at this point. I have achieved Peak Skepticism.

  • DontShootMe||

    No such thing. As long as there is no Peak Retard, there shall be no Peak Skepticism!

  • PH2050||

    There will never be Peak Retard as human stupidity is the one true infinite resource on this planet.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Sure E-verify might be inconvenient and a huge intrusion into both employer and employee privacy, but without it, we face the terrifying prospect of MassiveImmigrants getting jobs, being productive, and improving their material conditions. I can't think of anything worse.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Oh come on, Slappy. I'm sure you can tell who the Real Americans are just by looking at their skin color.

  • KPres||

    Our little brown brother manage to blow up somewhere between 0 and 10 people out of 300 million in an average year. Somehow, I'm willing to take the risk.

  • Brandybuck||

    I hate those MassiveImmigrants taking up two airplane seats, and their MassiveAutomobiles taking two parking spaces. And don't get me started on their MassiveBurritos like the one I ate last night...

  • Acosmist||

    Because immigration is a net positive, in some possible world.

  • Calidissident||

    AKA Earth?

  • PH2050||

    LOL I'm waiting for him to claim labor isn't subject to market forces and obeys lines drawn on maps.

  • MJGreen||

    Immigants! I knew it was them!

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    "Only about 7 percent of employers use it"

    Why do any of them use it I wonder?

  • Adam330||

    It's required by most government contracts.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Hey, I know what that weird British bear thing is this time.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Paddington is Peruvian, damn your hide.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    As the Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh told The Washington Post last month, figuring out which bit of personal information the government has gotten wrong can take months.

    And remember, you're not allowed to work at any job for those months.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    Yea, errors in banking statements, credit cards, and other such services never, ever occur.

  • Ted S.||

    Well, ATM machines are taking tellers' jobs away.

  • KPres||

    But e-verify creates jobs. Since it makes everybody worse off, that means nobody was doing it before, meaning all the new administration jobs don't offset any old ones.

    Don't you see?

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    Well, only one is going to be legally mandated.

    It's OK that credit cards and bank statements have a few errors, I can always go elsewhere and the company that committed the error has an incentive to fix it. Not so much with the government.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Would "never, ever occur" be your only acceptable standard of performance for any computer system, public or private?

    I can't quickly find anything on true error rates -- as opposed to chargebacks, disagreements,etc. -- of mistakes on financial statement but I'd guess it's way under 1%. I've never had a true mistake on any financial statement in my life.

  • My Dog Bites Better Than Yours||

    There is no comparison. Bank statements and C Cards are relatively simple transactions-debits and credits. You can get an itemize statement and identify the incorrect records(s). The process for correcting the misinformation is well documented, albeit a PITA. In many cases, the transaction is put on hold until it's resolved.

    No one is responsible for the E-Verify system. The system draws from multiple sources, almost none of which you have access. You might have to submit FOIA requests even to find the problem.

    To make it worse, you can't legally work until it's resolved.

  • ||

    Sure it can, moron.

  • Jordan||

    "If only we had the right TOP MEN in charge!"

    - the statist's lament

  • Fatty Bolger||

    That's because banks are not the government. You can be sure that E-Verify will always have problems, no matter how much money is thrown at it.

  • KPres||

    "This can be made to work."

    Let's hope not.

  • tarran||

    Hey American, you clicked the wrong bookmark again. This isn't Stormfront.org. This website caters to civilized, refined people like Episiarch and Warty.

  • Careless||

    So, as someone who has only paid attention to the threads for 10 days or so, who the heck are Episiarch and Warty.

  • ||

    Careless, me thinks you protest too much.

  • ||

    Civilized?!?

  • tarran||

    Have you read Stormfront?

    I did for a solid month when researching white supremacist/separatists for this article.

    You guys are regular Vespasians compared to them.

  • ||

    Vespasian?!? If anything I'm a Nero you fool! Maybe a Domitian.

  • tarran||

    I said compared to them.

    The Roman Emperor you most closely resemble is a flabbier version of Jonathan Frake's head.

  • SugarFree||

    I like to think of myself as Caligula in the last stages of syphilis.

  • Brandybuck||

    If only we had more horse senators, instead of horse's ass senators.

  • Calidissident||

    Tarran, not to interrupt the debate over the civilized/uncivilized nature of Episiarch and Warty, but I just wanted to let you know that that's a really great article.

  • Calidissident||

    Says the guy who used to post about how Jews hated "gentile white America"

  • Calidissident||

    I'm not saying anything other than I find it ironic that a guy who used to post about how Jews (and you definitely generalized, don't pretend you just said a few) hate "gentile white America" would then call out David Duke for being a Jew hater. Generally speaking, people who think Jews hate non-Jewish white Americans don't think too highly of Jews

  • Calidissident||

    "I'm not a liberal, so the "oh my god you generalized" doesn't work on me. You can clearly say that blacks are generally liberal, but you can't say the same thing about Jews, even as a compliment."

    You didn't say Jews are generally liberal. You said they hate non-Jewish white people. There's a difference, even if you don't think there is.

    And the only reason I made the generalize comment was because of the way you tried to weasel out of it by saying "some Jews hate ...", not to insult you for generalizing.

  • Calidissident||

    Also, the comment about how being accused of generalizing doesn't insult you because you're not a liberal doesn't make any sense. There are few things liberals (generally, and yes I realize the irony of this comment) love more than generalizing. Not exactly sure why you said that. Do you even think about the stuff you say?

  • ||

    OK, I have a plan. Let's all legally change our names to a SQL injection attack. From now on, I'll be x'; DROP TABLE id; --.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Are even government systems still susceptible to SQL injection? Nah, stupid question. I'll be I'll be x'; DROP TABLE providers; --.

  • Floridian||

    After reading this blog awhile I left the "they took our jerbz" camp and saw mobility as a basic human right. I do have a question about an open border country. If country A has an open border policy and shares a border with country B, but country B does not support open borders wouldn't this act as a one way valve? I could see massive immigration into country A with country B busing undesirables to the border to get rid of them. Any thoughts about this hypothetical border? Thanks.

  • tarran||

    This actually occurred with the Mariel boatlift, and it caused some nasty problems.

    First, when these unskilled people show up, it takes a while for the labor market and the capital structure of the economy to react to the new labor availibility. The undesirables will have a high portion of unemployable or criminal types.

    We can safely ignore the employable; they'll start earning their keep and will integrate economically into the er economy. The dissidents who were political criminals in Castro's jails, for example breathed the air of freedom and started doing the stuff they wanted to do like make art.

    The criminals will cause a spike in crime. Institutions to prevent/prosecute crime, if competently organized and operated will deal with them (in the case of the Mariel boatlift, a large number of
    thugs traded Cuban jail cells for American ones, becoming a burden on the American tax payer).

    The unemployable end up becoming wards of charity or homeless guys burdening the social services system.

    For me, on a utilitarian scale, I am confident that the benefits of unilateral open-borders, provided by talented individuals coming here and busting their asses for a piece of the American dream way outway the costs. Additionally, I think morally depriving 80% of a group their freedom to prevent 20% from abusing it is a travesty.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Additionally, I think morally depriving 80% of a group their freedom to prevent 20% from abusing it is a travesty.

    That's an interesting way of setting up the argument. I think the scope of the abuse by the 20% would be important from a utilitarian point of view. Even apart from that, opening up a system that provides benefits for the non-productive does, in a way, deprive at least all taxpayers of money and freedom.

    The optimal solution seems to be to eliminate public welfare, but I have some doubts that this is feasible.

  • tarran||

    Even without immigration, the welfare system is fucking doomed to wreck the economy.

    Why should we deprive ourselves of freedom and economic growth in a futile effort to prolong such an immoral system?

  • Tak Kak||

    To help those who are already completely dependent on it (like the elderly) maybe.

  • Bryan C||

    "Why should we deprive ourselves of freedom and economic growth in a futile effort to prolong such an immoral system?"

    No. The influx of unskilled labor is designed to prolong the immoral welfare system. And it'll work, too. The Beast is finally starving, and you're about to open an all-you-can-eat buffet.

  • Calidissident||

    Yeah, the welfare state is bad enough, using it to justify further encroachments on liberty is even worse, whether it's immigration, drugs, diet, lifestyle, etc.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Lack of faith that a better system would emerge, for the most part, I think.

    All in all, this system, such as it is, is still pretty elite when it comes to comparison with the rest of the world and rest of history. If there were some kind of guarantee that a more libertarian country would rise from the ashes, that's one thing, but it doesn't seem to happen very often.

  • Calidissident||

    If the system is going to collapse, immigration in all likelihood isn't going to make the difference either way.

  • Bryan C||

    "The undesirables will have a high portion of unemployable or criminal types."

    Unfortunately, in more recent years, the statists have mastered the art of using unskilled immigrants as a captive constituency and a weapon against their enemies. Especially those former undesirables, since they're the people who are most dependent on the benevolence of the state.

    I think it's morally questionable to invite immigrants into our country while knowing, as we do, that there are powerful forces in control who want to conscript them as breeding stock for their permanent servant class.

  • tarran||

    powerful forces in control who want to conscript them as breeding stock for their permanent servant class.

    This is the purest, most refined, extra-virgin bit of lunacy I've read today... Congratulations sir!

  • Bryan C||

    That's the cleverest and most learned and insult I've seen all month. Thank you!

    I get carried away sometimes. But, seriously, I'd like you to change my mind. Whether the people running the system are motivated by racism, pathological altruism, or simple political opportunism, I don't know. We have many, many people in this country who are effectively dependent on the government for their survival. It's a way of life, generations old now, and it isn't by accident.

  • KPres||

    Since Country A is libertarian, it has no minimum wage and little or no welfare state, then everybody living there would get to enjoy the benefits of incredibly cheap African laborers providing a massive flow of new services to them (while improving their own lives) that they previously had to do themselves.

  • Calidissident||

    DEY TOOK ER JERBS!

  • KPres||

    "I could see massive immigration into country A with country B busing undesirables to the border to get rid of them. Any thoughts about this hypothetical border?"

    If by undesirable you mean criminal, I don't see why you'd let them in. Your rights, including free movement, are contingent on respecting other people's rights.

  • Floridian||

    Lets say all social program defendants. Not bad people just they had their legs taken out from under them with a strangled job market and gave up. Country B doesn't want to take care of them anymore so to the border of libertopia with them.

  • Careless||

    This series of posts should really end with squatters living in Peter's house when he gets home, unwilling to move. And who is he to tell them to leave? the owner? Not anymore, stupid, squatters are some of the owners now!

  • Jordan||

    I wasn't aware that somebody owned the U.S.

  • Tak Kak||

    It wouldn't be the "U.S." if it wasn't.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Is there any unowned land in the US?

  • Jordan||

    Does it matter? If I want to hire somebody to work on my property, it's nobody else's business. Similarly, if a landlord wants to rent to them or sell to them.

  • Tak Kak||

    At the most basic level, how are they to get there?

  • Calidissident||

    Let me guess.

    ROOOOOOADDZ!

  • Tak Kak||

    Or trespassing.

  • Calidissident||

    Are you being serious or facetious? Are you comparing being on a public road to trespassing on private property?

  • Tak Kak||

    Nah, hence the "Or"

    One certainly could make that comparison though, it's pretty defensible.

  • Floridian||

    I was thinking the way the convicts were shipped to Australia . I can see open borders working if everyone has open borders, but worry you would saturate a market if it can't reach equilibrium by flowing back and forth. Hence a one way value type situation.

  • Floridian||

    Valve not value

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Yeah, when you're talking about whether something is owned, ownership matters.

    If you've got some way that you worker can be only on private property, that's one thing. That seems pretty unlikely, though.

  • Calidissident||

    Are you saying that because "the public" (read: the government) owns the roads, sidewalks, etc. that it's ok to make it illegal for a foreign immigrant to come on public property of any kind, as long as a majority of the public, or elected officials, say so? What if a majority of the public wants to make it illegal for Night Elf Mohawk to come on public property?

  • Fatty Bolger||

    squatters are some of the owners now

    Squatters are all of the owners now.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    "So, you have some kind of complaint about an alleged error in the E-Verify system, Mr. Buttle?"

    "It's Tuttle, not Buttle."

    "I'm not sure I like your attitude, Buttle."

    "But nobody will hire me until the error is corrected."

    "Then I guess you shouldn't have disrespected me so close to my lunch hour. CLICK."

  • XM||

    A verification system with 96%-99% success rate seems reliable to me.

    If you're an illegal alien, then you probably don't have a shadow of a chance working for some tech industry that uses E-verify. OR you qualified for Obama's two year reprieve. I know a few fast food joints that employ E-verify, and those jobs are snapped up by legal immigrants.

    If you're working somewhere reputable, they'll run background checks on you, E-verify or not. A better appeals process which allows you to show your "papers" will probably correct most of the errors.

    What will be the ratio of people wrongly denied employment under E-verify (which is employed by 7% of the businesses so far) to people receiving subsidies or what have you under Obamacare's heartwarming "honor system"?

    There's room for skepticism for both systems. I'll be more skeptical over Obamacare's verification system.

  • Calidissident||

    "A verification system with 96%-99% success rate seems reliable to me."

    Unless you're one of the millions of people that are part of the 1-4% failure rate

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Collateral damage. Expendable.

  • XM||

    Is there actual evidence that "millions of people" was denied their job because of E-verify screw ups?

    If a verification system works 96-99% of the time, the chances of wrongful rejection is slim. Who here supports tough gun laws because a relatively small amount of guns are sold without proper oversight?

    If you were among the 1-4% who were screwed, well, you do have SS numbers and proof of citizenship issued by the GOVERNMENT. A lawsuit or two should be encouragement enough.

  • Calidissident||

    "Is there actual evidence that "millions of people" was denied their job because of E-verify screw ups?"

    We haven't had mandatory E-verify. Also, you wouldn't really know if you were denied a job because of that. Do you think a business is going to take the time to make sure that an applicant who gets denied actually got properly denied? In the vast majority of cases, no. If a system has a 96-99% success rate, in a country of over 100 million workers that means that millions of those workers would get wrongfully denied if they applied for a job. It's simple math.

    "Who here supports tough gun laws because a relatively small amount of guns are sold without proper oversight?"

    Not a good analogy, and in any case, I don't support current gun laws and oversight.

    "If you were among the 1-4% who were screwed, well, you do have SS numbers and proof of citizenship issued by the GOVERNMENT."

    It's not quite that simple. Those things can be faked. That's the whole point of the system (and of course, there would still be businesses who hired people without running them through the system).

    In any case, employers should have the right to hire employees without government permission

  • XM||

    The analogy sort of works, insofar as illustrating that fact that no background check is perfect.

    Employers are (or should be) forbidden from hiring workers who aren't authorized to work here. Those businesses had to receive all sorts of government permission to exist and operate in the first place.

    If I had fake IDs and SS numbers, then I should be rejected by e-verifty. If it's ever determined that thousands of non citizens tried to appeal their rejection with fake IDs, support for this service (and streamlining the appeals process) will only increase.

    E-verify gets high marks overall. Several states have already expanded its usage. Sample size might be small, but I'm not aware of any massive rejection of employment based on E-verify snafu. It's an online service that checks your status which was already determined by the government.

  • ||

    If a live human being tells lies about you to your employer, they can be sued for defamation. Even if that person is a government official.

    If a live human being makes an error that causes them to tell your employer in good faith that you are bad, they can be sued for defamation. Even if that person is a government official.

    So why are automated systems exempt from being sued? They have to be under the authority of SOMEONE at some point, after all. Even if it's just the corporation that wrote the bugs into the system.

  • Lord at War||

    A national, mandatory expansion of the program could mean that about 1 in 25 new hires—perhaps 11,000 workers per day—end up being wrongly flagged.

    I'm skeptical about Suderman's math...

    11,000 per day is over 4 million per year- and he calls it 1 of 25 new hires. Which means he is saying that more than 100 million people take a new job w/ a different company each year- each and every year- in an economy with only 140 million jobs.

    Math fail.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement