U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican candidate for governor, is one of nearly 183,500 employers nationwide who have registered to use E-Verify. The federal electronic system is designed to prevent the hiring of illegal workers by letting employers run a prospective employee's name, date and Social Security number through government records.
During the Jan. 14 GOP gubernatorial debate, she criticized the state for not using the online system to check its job applicants.
"The State of Texas does not even use the E-Verify system to determine if someone is legally in our country when they apply for a job," she said. "If I'm governor of Texas, we will."
During the second debate Friday, Hutchison called E-Verify the best system for employers to identify undocumented workers.
Is Texas state government really not using the verification service singled out by Hutchison? If not, does that mean it isn't checking whether job applicants are legally living here?
During Friday's debate, Gov. Rick Perry said: "E-Verify would not make a hill of beans' difference when it comes to what's happening in America today. You secure the border first, then you can talk about how to identify individuals in an immigration situation."
Still, the state does screen prospective employees.
Allison Castle, Perry's press secretary, said: "We use I-9 forms in compliance with federal law."
She was referring to the Employment Eligibilty I-9 form from the Department of Homeland Security which must be filled out by the employer and new employees to document that each employee — citizen and non-citizen alike — is authorized to work in the United States. Employers, who are required to keep filled-out forms on file for three years, are subject to penalties if they can't produce them upon request from federal agencies.
Tyler Moran, policy director for the National Immigration Law center, which advocates for low-income immigrants, said the I-9 form, if completed in good faith, is an effective means of weeding out undocumented workers.
Authorities say that by completing the form, employers demonstrate that they have examined relevant documents (such as a Social Security card) to check their workers' identities. That's how the State of Texas has certified new hires' legal residency since 1986, when a federal law prohibited employers from knowingly hiring residents who are not legally living in the United States.
In 2007, Texas enacted legislation that further requires businesses that are applying for a grant or tax cut from a public agency to submit a statement certifying that they don't knowingly employ undocumented residents.
But no law requires employers to verify the authenticity of their workers' documents. Undoubtedly, some undocumented immigrants use fake or stolen Social Security numbers to apply for jobs.
The E-Verify system, which uses information from the I-9 form, was developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to prevent such fraud. About 183,500 entities use the program, including 9,700 of the roughly 380,600 private Texas employers including AT&T and the Houston Ballet. Except for an estimated 170,000 federal contractors, E-verify is still voluntary for an estimated 6 million employers.
Since its inception in 2006, E-Verify has been used by Hutchison's office to screen 363 job applicants to her Washington and Texas offices, according to DHS spokeswoman Maria Elena Garcia Upson.
But E-Verify isn't foolproof. It has incorrectly identified legal residents as undocumented workers and vice versa.
According to the the Department of Homeland Security, which operates E-Verify with the Social Security Administration, 0.3 percent of workers — from the millions of queries employers have filed — have successfully contested instances when their documents didn't match E-Verify records.
In 2002, Westat, a Washington research organization, evaluated E-Verify's pilot program at the request of the federal government. The group found that there were "serious problems with the timeliness and accuracy of the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) database."
In March 2009, the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan agency that provides analysis to Congress, found that while the program had improved, it was still flawed: "While... E-Verify can detect certain types of document fraud, it has limited ability to detect such fraud when the 'counterfeit documents are of reasonable quality and contain information about actual work-authorized persons.' Valid documents obtained by using fraudulent birth certificates or other so-called breeder documents may be even more difficult for E-Verify to detect."
About a month later, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (who'd earlier signed legislation making E-Verify mandatory in Arizona, where she was governor) touted the program as the best way to verify the legal residency of state government workers, "adjunct to enforcement of our immigration laws."
Ten states require their state agencies to participate in E-Verify; three more — South Carolina, Arizona and Mississippi — require all employers to use it, too. In 2008, though, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour aired these misgivings: "I am concerned about mandating the E-Verify system as the sole source from which an employer in Mississippi can verify a potential employee’s eligibility, especially since the federal government itself has said E-Verify is not a reliable system."
The bottom line: Texas uses the same method of checking legal residency that most states use. But Hutchison correctly said the state doesn't use E-Verify. We find her statement True.