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Tools | Quinn Bowman

Digital-Age Immigration
Tools for combating the controversial employment verification process
E-Verify helps eliminate employment verification paperwork for quick-service restaurants.

Last year, when Congress failed to reach a consensus on immigration reform, local and state governments looking to satisfy angry constituents were left to their own devices in order to address what some consider a serious problem: millions of illegal immigrants living and working in the U.S.

For the quick-serve restaurant industry, the topic couldn’t be more relevant. Restaurants have a high turnover rate and need to hire workers to fill a constantly rotating kitchen staff. In many cases, illegal immigrants can end up on the roster.

The Bush administration has focused on cracking down on businesses who hire illegal immigrants, and the debate among business leaders, immigration advocates, and the government is now focusing on how that process should work.

In August 2007, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Congress’s failure to address illegal immigration required that his department use its own tools to enforce immigration laws.

Emerging from that debate is a key issue for restaurant owners and operators: an electronic system run by the government that is designed to allow employers to instantly verify the identification documents provided by a prospective employee. The idea is to allow companies to quickly find out if a future employee is permitted to work in the country.

E-Verify, the latest name for the Web-based program, is administered by the Department of Homeland Security, Social Security Administration, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In existence under different names since 1997 (like Basic Pilot or Employment Eligibility Verification Program), E-Verify is a voluntary program that checks provided employee identification documents against government databases. If an employee’s documents don’t match federal databases, the system is supposed to tell the employer, “Don’t hire.”

The Schuler Bill, a piece of immigration reform pending in the House of Representatives, and an already-passed controversial law in Arizona aim to make E-Verify participation mandatory. The policy makes business leaders uncomfortable and has a company based on E-Verify ready for more customers.

Trail lawyer David Long-Daniels from Greenberg Traurig, LLP gives the ins and outs of employee verification.

David Adams, CFO for Lookout Services, says his company is poised to help businesses in the west adopt E-Verify. His service turns the government’s Employee Eligibility Verification (I-9) form, into an electronic file that can be checked to make sure it is complete and accurate.

As the government moves to make electronic employment verification mandatory, as it is in Arizona, services like Lookout could stand to profit from businesses that need to connect and interact with E-Verify.

“It started in January 2006—[Immigration and Customs Enforcement] stepped it up, frustrated states stepped it up,” Adams says. “The original problem was that people’s I-9s had so many potential paperwork violations … if [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] comes in and demands to see the I-9s, they can fine you for errors or missing information. Also, you can get in trouble for having illegal people,” he adds.

Lookout Services’s primary function is to replace the paper I-9, which Adams says could be sitting in a filing cabinet full of errors, with a digital version that will not allow the user to make mistakes on the form.

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