How accurate is E-Verify?

Published 2 March 2010

Many news reports about a DHS-sponsored evaluation of the effectiveness of the E-Verify project said that the study found that the program was accurate in only 54 percent of the cases submitted to it for verification; the heavily statistical analysis is not easily penetrated, but what the report said was that due primarily to identity fraud, the inaccuracy rate of E-Verify for unauthorized workers is approximately 54 percent

On Friday we reported on the finding by Westat, a company contracted by DHS to evaluate the effectiveness of the E-Verify program, saying that the study found that the program might be failing to detect one out of two illegal workers whose employment authorizations are screened (“E-Verify Finds Only One Out of Two Illegals,” 26 February 2010 HSNW).

Some readers wrote us to suggest that this was not an accurate characterization of Westat’s conclusions — or of E-Verify’s effectiveness.

Indeed, Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) deputy press secretary Bill Wright told the Wall Street Journal’s Louise Radnofsky and Miriam Jordan that “The Westat report shows that E-Verify’s accuracy continues to improve, with the vast majority of all cases automatically found to be work-authorized.”

DHS secretary Janet Napolitano, testifying in a House hearing on her agency’s proposed budget last Thursday, said she doubts the 54 percent inaccuracy rate for illegal workers. She said things are being added to the system to root out identity fraud. “E-Verify is absolutely where we are going in terms of incentivizing employers and making sure we are using a legal work force,” Napolitano said.

The notion that the Westat report concluded that E-Verify was accurate in only about half of the cases submitted to it, however, found expression in all the reports on the topic. UPI reports that Westat concluded that “E-Verify isn’t able to confirm whether information workers are presenting is their own. As a result, Westat says, ‘many unauthorized workers obtain employment by committing identity fraud that cannot be detected by E-Verify.’” It put the inaccuracy rate for unauthorized workers at about 54 percent.

AP quotes Marc Rosenblum, a researcher at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C. think tank, to say that “Clearly it means [E-Verify] is not doing its No. 1 job well enough.” Rosenblum, who has studied E-Verify, said Westat’s evaluation shows it does not make sense substantially to expand and invest in E-Verify without fixing the identity theft problem.

AP reports that CIS is developing a way for people to screen themselves through E-Verify so they can show potential employers they can work legally.

About 184,000 of the U.S. 7 million to 8 million employers are using E-Verify, according to DHS.

Congress gave DHS about $100 million to spend on E-Verify in its 2010 budget.

Westat’s report, completed in December using data from 2008, was quietly posted on DHS’s Web site on 28