Originally aired on Houston Public Media.
Dozens of new state laws will take effect on September 1. One is intended to make sure everyone who is hired at a state agency is legally authorized to work in the United States.
But some immigration law experts aren’t sure whether the new mandate will be all that useful.
Senate Bill 374 will require all state agencies to run new employees through E-Verify, a voluntary federal program run by Citizenship and Immigration Services. The program helps to ensure people are authorized to work in the U.S. It matches the Social Security number provided by the employee with the federal Social Security number database.
Charles Foster, the chairman of Houston immigration law firm Foster Global, says E-Verify’s protocol is easy to get around.
“If they don’t have a valid Social Security number in their own name, they show up and say, ‘My name is X,’ and they give ‘X,’ which does have a valid Social Security number. That’s either a number they’ve stolen, or in some cases, it’s the number of a child, born in the U.S., that’s entitled to a Social Security number,” Foster said.
The new law supersedes an executive order former Governor Rick Perry made late last year, which mandated all state agencies and contractors use E-Verify to check all prospective and current employees. That order was unenforceable.
“First of all, under the E-Verify program, it can only work for ‘new’ employees, not existing employees. Furthermore, there were questions whether the governor had actual jurisdiction. But, be that as it may, this has all been replaced by state legislation,” Foster said.
The E-Verify requirement applies only to new hires at state agencies — not the private companies doing business with the state.
When Governor Greg Abbott signed the law in June, he said that it will “assure taxpayers that their hard-earned dollars are being used responsibly.”
Foster says while there may be some unauthorized workers at state agencies, he doesn’t believe it’s a problem serious enough to require E-Verify.
“The legislature wanted to do something to show that they’re tough on immigration. And this was something that elicited little resistance,” Foster said.
Other lawyers who work on immigration cases say E-Verify can have an error rate of up to three percent.
Professor Geoffrey Hoffman, who directs the Immigration Clinic at the University of Houston, says that in that past, if someone who had been eligible to work got flagged by E-Verify, it could turn into a big hassle — with a lot of uncertainties.
“Are they gonna have the requisite time that’s afforded to them to come back with their own rebuttal evidence? And are they going to have the sophistication to be able to go to legal counsel, and work with an attorney in some cases to prove that they are lawfully able to work?” asked Hoffman, who adds there are no guarantees built into the system to keep people from losing their jobs.
Hoffman and Foster agree that E-Verify by itself isn’t the answer to keep employers from hiring undocumented workers. They suggest Congress enact a comprehensive immigration reform package that includes everything from Social Security cards that can’t be forged, to better due process protections for people whose eligibility is challenged.
You can confirm your employment eligibility on your own, by using the Self Check program provided by Citizenship and Immigration Services.