Employee Verification System Faulty, Some Say

Employee verification system faulty, some say

By Earlsha Butler and Ben Piper
The Hattiesburg American (MS), August 26, 2008

A new Mississippi law requiring employers to verify the identity of employees may have holes that don't protect employers from hiring undocumented immigrants, said a Sanderson Farms executive Monday.

The new law uses e-verification, an electronic database operated jointly by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. The program allows companies to verify employees by comparing information on an employee's I-9 form with their Social Security information.

But Mike Cockrell, chief financial officer of Sanderson Farms, a chicken-processing plant based in Laurel, said the system's downside is its inability to detect false or stolen ID information.

'If somebody comes in and they manufacture a name …. that's the primary weakness in the system,' Cockrell said.

State Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said companies are not responsible for determining if their employees are committing identity fraud or theft.

'We don't hold the companies responsible for that,' Fillingane said. 'I'm not saying this bill is perfect. What I'm saying is that this is a better way of enforcing the laws.'

According to the law, companies violating the provisions of the law could lose their state contracts for up to three years. Violators can also lose their business license for a year.

'I don't think any company (could) say we don't have any illegal immigrants,' Cockrell said, in response to the raid of 350 employees at Howard Industries in Laurel. 'There's no way I can say with certainty that everybody working with us is legal.'

According to statistics by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 82,894 employers across the country are using e-verify.

In Mississippi, 1,340 employers are using the database at 4,455 worksites throughout the state.

'I will not disagree with anyone who says the system has some challenges,' said Bill Wright, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman. '(But) it's not an identity fraud tool.'

Wright said enhancements are being made to better assist employers.

In September, the federal government began requiring immigrant workers to provide a photo identification. An employer can match the photo image with others to verify its workers' identities.

'We are enhancing the program continually to make it better,' Wright said.

State Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, said the e-verify system 'is much more accurate' than previous processes. McDaniel said he was confident in the system.

'I don't know of any perfect system created by the government,' he said. 'Other states have used the e-verify system with success. I am confident Mississippi will as well.'

Calls to the Marshall Durbin chicken processing plant in Hattiesburg were not returned.