This week, Congress held hearings to discuss the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify program. Senator Chuck Schumer threw a curve ball at the hearings complaining that E-Verify was a “half-hearted and flawed system.” While I don’t agree with this statement, it is refreshing that the Senator and others are beginning to take notice of the missing key to the program’s success: a broad-use identity verification tool.
Despite suggestions otherwise, E-Verify has proven to be a critically important tool for employers to use, free of charge, in an effort to determine an individual’s employment eligibility. The metrics on E-Verify use, accuracy, and speed are strong, and improving all the time. However, E-Verify’s Achilles heel remains its reliance on the accuracy of, and limitations on, information that is input into the system. If an employer is unable to confirm that the identity documents presented belong to the individual who presents them, what value is there to the “employment authorized” message from E-Verify if it is only confirming the authorization of the data entered?
Absent an identity tool tied to E-Verify, employers have been left to serve as document detectives. Senator Schumer’s suggestion for a biometric employment card doesn’t sound all that different than enhanced security goals hoped to be achieved by Real ID. Regrettably this identity solution received a major blow in the past few weeks when the Administration announced that it was retreating from its implementation. The 9/11 Commission came to the same conclusion that employers have known for a long time: Identity documents are only as good as the information they contain. Without an ability to match an individual to the identity on their document, drivers’ licenses and state issued identity cards remain vulnerable to fraudulent use.
Real ID was poised to correct this loophole and provide conclusive matches to drivers’ licenses and their holders. In fact 16 states had indicated that they had been meeting established benchmarks for implementation. Despite this success, the Administration has regrettably decided to retreat from implementing this crucial 9/11 recommendation. If security concerns are not reason enough to forge ahead with a meaningful biometrically based identity card, how will a Schumer proposal for the purposes of ensuring authorized employment see the light of day?
Nevertheless, Senator Schumer has initiated a critical discussion that has taken even greater precedent in a post-9/11 world. Identity verification is an imperative need for both security and employment authorization. It’s my hope that Senator Schumer doesn’t propose to walk away from E-Verify. The system isn’t perfect and needs improvement. But it’s not an “either or” matter between E-Verify and the Senator’s employment authorization card proposal, but a matter of “and.” E-Verify tied with an identity solution not totally unlike the Senator’s proposal just might be what’s needed to make the system work. Why not build on a system already in place that has cost the taxpayers a fair amount to implement already? But before the Senator proposes this solution, he needs to first convince his colleagues not to back peddle on Real ID. Any retreat on Real ID does not bode well for a Schumer employment authorization card.
Julie Myers Wood is the former Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She is President of Immigration and Customs Solutions.