Idahoans can self-check whether they're legal to work
Idaho workers now have the option of checking federal government databases to make sure they’re legal to work in Idaho. Workers can self-check using the E-Verify website, which is a system that’s faced controversy as state lawmakers considered making it mandatory for employers as part of efforts to combat illegal immigration.
Idaho is one of five states, along with the District of Columbia, where anyone can go to the E-Verify website, input some personal information, including a Social Security number, and make sure they come up clean.
Employers can volunarily use E-Verify to check whether their employees can legally work in the U.S. The system checks names and information against Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records. The self-check program could spread to other states, though it’s not clear how popular it will be or why many workers would use the system.
“It puts people on notice if there are mistakes so that they can correct them,” said Idaho Department of Labor spokesman Bob Fick, who issued a news release announcing the program. He said the state labor department didn’t push for Idaho to be one of the first states with the E-Verify Self Check program, which is a federal endeavor. Fick also said the labor department doesn’t use E-Verify when processing claims for unemployment benefits, but rather cross-checks applicants’ Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses.
“It’s more of a PR campaign than it is something that’s actually needed,” said Brent Olmstead, who leads the Idaho Business Coalition for Immigration Reform and is a lobbyist for the Milk Producers of Idaho. He said people in the U.S. on work permits or with other legal issues might use the system. “It would probably behoove you to go through it and make sure there are no problems with your papers, so you can get those fixed before you apply for a job.”
Olmstead’s group opposed efforts by some lawmakers last year to make E-Verify mandatory for all businesses in Idaho. Several states, including Utah and Arizona, have similar laws. Olmstead said his business coalition favors national-level immigration reforms, rather than state reforms. He also said E-Verify could be difficult for some employers.
“Not all businesses in Idaho have computers,” Olmstead said. “Some don’t even have electricity.”
The E-Verify system isn’t foolproof. A 2010 report commissioned by the federal government found that E-Verify was accurate 96 percent of the time, but that more than half of all unauthorized workers are wrongly labeled as authorized. Those errors are primarily due to identity theft.
Leo Morales, the immigration rights policy director for Idaho Community Action Network, said the self-checking system could be useful to people who are changing their legal status, but wouldn’t be of use to most Idahoans. “Individuals that know that they have status, and individuals that know that they don’t have status know that as well,” he said.
E-Verify and other efforts at curbing illegal immigration didn’t see much action during this year’s legislative session. Morales said the federal government has more power and ability to change immigration policy, and that state-level changes, like those passed in Arizona, can get snarled. “Doing this only takes it to court, which ends up costing the taxpayers and doesn’t solve anything,” Morales said.
Idahoans wanting to verify their legal right to work can fill out a form at the E-Verify website, which is run by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service.