E-Verify Immigrant Job Screening Is a Game of Chicken, Politics and State Laws

By: - April 27, 2018 12:00 am

A Tyson Foods employee outside an Arkansas chicken house. Immigration scanning for new employees is especially common in states like Arkansas and Delaware where chicken processing is a big employer.

Kelly P. Kissel/AP

Amid the Trump administration’s vocal efforts to crack down on the hiring of undocumented immigrants, little attention has been paid to a federal program that, if used uniformly, could go a long way toward stopping the practice.

E-Verify — which is run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and matches job applicants and federal immigration data — has been touted as a solution to helping employers determine whether a potential hire is legally entitled to work in the United States. But Congress has spent years struggling to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and the E-Verify program remains voluntary across most of the country.

Although President Donald Trump included mandatory E-Verify use in his 2019 federal budget proposal, some traditionally Republican interest groups, such as agriculture, have concerns about mandating E-Verify without an overhaul to the U.S. guest-worker program.

Stateline conducted a state-by-state analysis of E-Verify use, looking at Homeland Security data and hiring statistics from the federal Quarterly Workforce Indicators, and found that a critical tool for preventing the illegal hiring of undocumented workers hasn’t been used uniformly even in the states that require it.

The deciding factor in how many employers use the federal E-Verify program might not be state law alone — but also whether a state’s leading industry is one that relies heavily on an immigrant workforce: namely, the poultry industry.

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Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson

Tim Henderson covers demographics for Stateline. He has been a reporter at the Miami Herald, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Journal News.