The recent Mississippi poultry plant raids that uncovered hundreds of employees who were allegedly in the United States illegally may wind up changing workplace hiring procedures. But not in the way most people think.
It was no secret that millions of people are in the country illegally, and that some of them were employed when they did not have the right to be. But the poultry plant raids exposed the fact that the federal government’s highly touted E-Verify system isn’t preventing these bad hires.
A story last week in The Washington Post, citing search warrant affidavits, said that despite a Mississippi law requiring the use of the employment verification tool, the five companies that owned the seven raided poultry plants “have for years managed to hire unauthorized immigrants.”
This is odd, given that Mississippi is one of only eight states that require employers to use E-Verify.
The program does work, but only to a point. The raids indicated that point is when job applicants present false information about themselves to a prospective employer, who may or may not be cooperating in the fraud.
E-Verify uses several federal databases to check an applicant’s name, Social Security number and other information. But it isn’t designed to verify that the people presenting the information are who they claim to be.
Undocumented immigrants apparently exploited this weakness in the system by using other people’s papers, including some who had died. In some cases, according to the search warrant affidavits, the companies did not use E-Verify to check the information presented to them. Allegedly there were cases where the Social Security numbers used did not match up to the names the employees used.
An immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute said E-Verify’s inability to fully detect fraud and a lack of use by employers are the reasons the system never has been able to deliver on its promise of preventing illegal immigration.
“E-Verify is barely used half of the time in states where it’s mandated, and punishments are rarely meted out to businesses who fail to comply,” said the analyst, Alex Nowrasteh. “If conservative states like Mississippi won’t enforce E-Verify, what hope is there in the rest of the country?”
The problem has been going on for years. A 2012 audit of E-Verify said the system incorrectly approved nearly half of unauthorized job applicants because of fraudulent documents they provided. The federal government has started comparing photos to state driver’s license databases to help employers catch fakes.
Still, there were too many unauthorized workers at the seven plants — an average of 97 per location, 680 all told — to argue credibly that all of them outwitted the people who hired them. Someone in the companies had to look past the wrongdoing.
This story offers an easy solution to reduce the number of illegal immigrants who find work: Hold the employers more accountable.
Individuals or companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants can be fined as much as $3,000 per unauthorized worker. Owners and managers also can be jailed for up to six months.
If the state and federal governments want to dry up the job market for illegal immigrants, it’s obvious how they can do it. What’s less obvious is why they haven’t been.