Participation in a national citizenship-verification database became mandatory for federal contractors on Sept. 8, and lawyers warn that it is only a matter of time before other companies around the county will have to follow suit.
In some cases, firms are already seeing private sector clients voluntarily go through the free online process of checking the immigration status of newly hired employees.
Milwaukee immigration attorney Doris E. Brosnan said businesses which tend to have high volume labor needs are looking to be proactive in making sure their workers are legal.
“Companies want to nip these problems in the bud and not deal with them down the line when they find someone has a fake identity,” she said.
The most tangible benefit of using E-Verify is the protection it offers against penalties if a business employs an undocumented worker.
“If an employer relies in good faith on the E-Verify system, there is a rebuttable presumption that an employer did not knowingly hire unauthorized workers,” said Bradley M. Maged, who runs an immigration law firm in Burlington, Mass.
Immigration attorney Gene T. Schaeffer, Jr. of Godfrey & Kahn SC in Madison noted that the system is also attractive to employers because it offers timely feedback as to whether someone is authorized to work.
In an era of raids on workplaces, such protection offers employers peace of mind.
“If for some reason a company is embroiled with government work issues, E-Verify provides evidence that the business is trying to comply and do things by the book,” Schaeffer said.
Not all smooth sailing
There are drawbacks to E-Verify. The program works by checking the validity of an employee’s Social Security number, a method that has been criticized as unreliable.
Brosnan said that some immigration lawyers have also heard concerns from clients that their participation in E-Verify will subject them to increased scrutiny and make them targets for the federal government in the future.
“It’s a potential downside that I’ve heard discussed,” she said.
Michael C. Runde, of Hochstatter, McCarthy, Rivas & Runde SC in Milwaukee noted that just because a company uses E-Verify, it does not gain immunity from being investigated by the government.
“It’s not a guarantee the business won’t be raided,” he said.
E-Verify had some problems early on. But Boston immigration attorney Jeffrey W. Goldman said that the system seems to have improved.
“They have worked out a lot of the bugs,” he said. “Our clients who are using it say it’s worked out very well.”
If an employee is wrongly identified as having illegal work status, he added, the employer likely will not be penalized.
“I don’t think that’s setting up an employer for liability,” Goldman said. “Most of the false positives work themselves out.”
To determine whether it is prudent to participate in E-Verify, Runde said companies must perform a cost-benefit analysis.
“There are time and labor costs in having employees assigned to do the E-Verify function for a company,” he said. “It’s something that varies from employer to employer.”
Schaeffer said that as the system improves and becomes more reliable the benefits may become more tangible.
“But I also think there is always going to be an element of concern on the employer’s part in terms of giving information to the government and if that, in essence, puts them under a microscope,” he said.
Julia Reischel works for Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. A version of this story ran in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, a sister paper of the Wisconsin Law Journal.