Arizona’s Employers Slow to Get With Program

Becky Pallack, Arizona Daily Star, March 30, 2008

E-Verify, the federal database for verifying a new hire’s legal status, largely has worked fine for Arizona employers.

That’s in part because only 15 percent of employers in the state have signed up to use it.

Just 22,000 of the 145,000 Arizona employers have registered, said Marie Sebrechts, a spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The Legal Arizona Workers Act that took effect Jan. 1 requires all Arizona employers to use E-Verify.

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Human resources experts in Tucson had a variety of guesses about why registration has been low:

* Some businesses have a wait-and-see approach or believe the law will go away, said Tom Lickliter, regional manager of Employer Solutions Group.

* Some see no explicit penalty for not signing up.

* Some employers who haven’t hired anyone since the first of the year haven’t had a need to sign up.

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* Others are simply confused—you have to go through a tutorial, read a manual and take a test to sign up.

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The vast majority of the time—93 percent, to be exact—the system quickly confirms a new hire’s work eligibility, Sebrechts said.

An employer enters a new hire’s name, Social Security number and birth date into the online system and instantly receives a message on the screen saying the person is eligible to work in the United States.

It’s what happens the rest of the time—that 7 percent—that causes frustration.

In those cases, the employer receives a “tentative nonconfirmation” message, meaning the employee’s information doesn’t match what’s in the database of eligible workers.

Still, nine out of 10 are resolved within one day, Sebrechts said.

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Lickliter said Mexican surnames often come up incorrectly in the database because in Mexico people typically use both their father’s and mother’s last names. That doesn’t always translate well on legal documents in the United States.

A year ago, 10 percent of naturalized-citizen employees verified were mismatched in the databases before they were later confirmed, according to an independent evaluation authorized by the Homeland Security Department.

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Policymakers and advocates are watching the way Arizona handles that and other issues as more states consider making E-Verify mandatory. And some legislators want to roll out the program nationwide.

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