USCIS e-Verify still flags eligible employees, says GAO


The U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services electronic system used to check the legality of new employees has the potential to wrongly flag 180,000 people a year as ineligible to work in America, according to numbers from a new Government Accountability Office report.

The system, e-Verify, erroneously flags far fewer employees than before. But, during fiscal 2009, the system nonetheless flagged as ineligible .3 percent of employees run through it, despite their eligibility, the GAO says. The report is dated Dec. 17 but was not publically released until Jan. 18.

Were e-Verify to become mandatory for all American employers, that would amount to 180,000 wrongly flagged people a year, based on a size estimate of 60 million new hires a year. Mismatches between the federal databases e-Verify consults and names entered into the e-Verify system would account for 164,000 of those erroneous results, the report states.

The problem of mismatched names is particularly heightened when people from backgrounds that include Hispanic or Arab origin have multiple surnames. One government document might easily record the surnames' order differently, or exclude one surname, or abbreviate one of them, the report notes. Because foreign-born employees are more likely to have name issues, e-Verify's return of unconfirmed records "can lead to the appearance of discrimination," the report says.

Employees faced with an erroneous exclusion aren't informed which federal database returned the mismatch--and, as a result, may need to initiate Privacy Act queries at several Homeland Security Department components, should they wish to contest the result.

DHS treats Privacy Act requests like it does Freedom of Information Act requests: The response time during fiscal 2009 was about 104 days for each request, the report says. Department privacy officials told GAO auditors they're discussing with senior e-Verify officials ways to provide employees with better access to relevant information, including notifying them which types of records e-Verify consulted.

E-Verify also remains vulnerable to fraud since employers might not be able to tell when an employee gives them falsified identity and employment eligibility documents. Actually, some employers have taken to asking for identity documents that won't cause e-Verify to match database-stored photos of individuals with a photo of the employee, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Arizona told GAO auditors. E-Verify will attempt to match stored photos with documents when presented with a permanent resident card or employment authorization documents, but not when presented with a driver's license.

"ICE officials said that they know of instances in which employers directed employees to provide driver's licenses...They said this has led to an increase in the fraudulent use of other documents, which are not part of the photo matching tool," the report says.

Obvious fraud, too--such as multiple uses of the same social security number--has a pattern when it comes to employers gaming the e-Verify system, but USCIS employees must spot it manually, the report adds.

The agency is planning to have online by fiscal 2012 a $6 million automated data mining capability called the Data Analysis System, the report states. E-Verify first came online more than a decade ago, in 1997.

For more:
- download the report, GAO-11-146 (.pdf)

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