What is E-verify?

E-verify is an Internet-based system that compares information from an employee's Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to data from U.S Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment eligibility.

Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Georgia and Tennessee could soon join four other states that require employers to use a federal verification system for new employees.

Legislation has been introduced in both states to require most employers to use the government's E-verify system to validate the citizenship or residency status of new hires.

Such proposals have received mixed reactions from employer and worker groups.

Only Arizona, Mississippi South Carolina and Utah have E-verify mandates for all employers.

E-verify is an Internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.

State requirements disputed

Arizona's law is the subject of a federal lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court and a 2010 federal appeals court ruling overturned an Oklahoma requirement that all employers use the system.

Georgia already requires the use of E-verify for public agencies and public contracts, but Tennessee doesn't.

E-verify, which started as a pilot program in the late 1990s, has already grown in use throughout Tennessee and Georgia. Nationwide, the number of employers regularly using E-verify grew from 1,064 in 2001 to almost 217,000 in 2010.

Use in Tennessee grows

In Tennessee and Georgia, the growth has been just as significant.

From 2006 to March 5, 2011, the number of employers signed up to use the system increased from 653 to 22,776 in Tennessee.

In Georgia, it increased from 922 employers in 2006 to 46,109 as of March 5, 2011, according to data provided by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Debating effectiveness

While the system usually can confirm whether or not a name and Social Security or alien identification number exist in a federal database, it cannot confirm whether a name and identifying number actually belong to the worker being hired, the Migration Policy Institute said.

As a government contractor, Shaw Industries Group Inc. in Dalton, Ga. has used the system since 2007 and hasn't had any problems with it, Paul Richard, vice president of human resources, said in an e-mail.

But for smaller businesses the system can be more burdensome, said Brian Anderson, president and CEO of the Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce.

"Is it overbearing where it can't be done? No, but it's another cost whether you consider time or money to small businesses," he said.

Small fry unprepared

The Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce is not opposed to such legislation as long as it applies equally to both public and private employers, Chamber spokesman J.Ed. Marston said.

Dan Haskell, executive director of the Tennessee Jobs Coalition, an umbrella group of employer associations, said officials have not seen a bill they can support.

"In the states where it has been mandated elsewhere they are only getting about 25 percent compliance," he said. "Many smaller businesses are just not prepared for this kind of effort."

Haskell said 10 percent of Tennessee's 200,000 businesses don't even have computers and for those businesses "compliance would be almost impossible," he added.

Bill's provisions cited

But Tennessee state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Larcassas, who introduced the Tennessee Lawful Employment Act, said businesses will have many opportunities to comply with the law before they get penalized. Those who don't have a computer, a third party can help them, he said.

Among those employees screened by E-verify, more than 98 percent are automatically confirmed as authorized to work in the United States. Only 1.7 percent of those screened by E-verify receive initial system mismatches. Such mismatches may be due to an applicant's being in the country illegally, but not always.

Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a national federation of small business owners that works to improve border control laws, said the problem is no longer whether E-verify is accurate, but whether the nation needs a legal path for the hiring of immigrant workers.

"Send an illegal immigrant home and create a job for an American sounds like a good idea, but that's not how it typically works because if that immigrant goes home probably what's going to happen is that the very low-end job is not going to be filled by an American and the better paying job is going to get eliminated," she said.