About a thousand employers a week are subscribing to the federal government's voluntary Web-based program E-Verify to check on the legal working status of job applicants, despite business concerns that the system is still not reliable enough, reports The Los Angeles Times.
The Obama administration has demonstrated support for the program by asking for $12 million more for it next year as immigration enforcement efforts have shifted more toward businesses that knowingly hire illegal workers, rather than toward the workers themselves.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, more than 6.6 million names were run through the database last fiscal year.
Nevertheless, the program continues to have its detractors.
But Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy at think tank the Center for American Progress, said E-Verify was not "ready for prime time."
"Supporters frame this as an immigration enforcement solution," she said. "It's really American workers having to ask the government for permission to work."
Immigration attorney Peter Schey said that though the program might be politically popular, it was unlikely to solve the issue of illegal immigration and would only push more undocumented workers underground. "They won't leave the country because of E-Verify," he said.
Business groups generally support E-Verify but criticize the error rate. The government reports that the program has a 96 percent accuracy rate. But even a small error rate could disqualify millions of workers if the program were to be expanded to the entire workforce, said Randel Johnson, vice president of labor, immigration, and employee benefits for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Despite that, many businesses want to be on the right side of the law and are willing to try out the system if it helps protect them from inadvertently hiring undocumented workers, said Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a national federation of employers.