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E-Verify: worker status with a click of a mouse

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Known formerly as the Basic Pilot Program, E-Verify was first developed in 1997 in the wake of a 1996 immigration reform law and was set up as a voluntary aid to companies. But in addition to Arizona, four states – Georgia, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Missouri – now mandate the use of E-Verify, according to Sheri Steisel, an immigration policy expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures in Washington. Legislation is pending in 13 additional states that would mandate public or private employers to verify the status of new hires using E-Verify.

"In the absence of the federal government coming to consensus on immigration reform and enforcement, states are left to try to do the best they can," Ms. Steisel says. "States are looking to other states and trying to tailor [legislation] to their own experience."

Since last July, when Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) signed the employer sanctions bill, the number of Arizona employers participating in E-Verify leapt from some 300 to 20,200 as of Feb. 23. Arizona employers make up about one-third of the firms who use E-Verify nationwide. Overall, participants in E-Verify rose from 14,000 a year ago to nearly 54,000 employers today. USCIS officials say that, on average, 1,000 more employers are signing up to use E-Verify each week.

Likely to affect the economy

Arizona won't begin prosecuting violators until March 1, so there's little hard evidence available to evaluate the effort so far. Civil libertarians and immigrant rights advocates have said the program could lead to widespread discrimination and is not as yet foolproof. Illinois, in fact, has prohibited its employers from using E-Verify until the system is improved.

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