The recent Mississippi poultry plant raids that uncovered a bunch of employees who were 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 requires employers to use E-Verify.
The program does work, but only to a point. The raids indicated that point is when a job applicant presents false information about himself to a prospective employer.
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 person presented the information is who he claims 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.
An immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute said E-Verify’s inability to verify, along with 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 department 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 — to argue credibly that all of them outwitted the people who hired them. Someone had to look past the wrongdoing.
This story offers an easy solution to reduce the number of illegal immigrants that find work: Hold the employers more accountable.
The Post reported that individuals or companies who knowingly hire at least 10 people can be fined as much as $3,000 per unauthorized worker. Employers also can be jailed for up to six months. That would quickly dry up the market for illegal workers.