For immigrants, though, those error rates increase dramatically. According to Hahn, naturalized citizens (or Green Card holders) are four times more likely to be falsely identified as unauthorized to work. For work-authorized non-citizens, the error rate spikes more than 27 times. "Proponents will defend the program by saying that the error rate is really low, but that's too many people that have a job offer and aren't able to take it," says Hahn. "That's not a partisan issue — everyone wants to create more jobs."
The implications and likely outcomes
The affects that nationwide E-Verify roll-out could have on the restaurant industry are wide-ranging. "The agriculture industry is most frequently cited as the industry that would be devastated by a standalone E-Verify mandate," says Hahn. "But the restaurant industry is probably the other that has the highest proportion of immigrant workers." In her view, restaurants would likely not comply with E-Verify, choosing instead to simply take their workers off the book.
As evidence, Hahn points to Arizona, which enacted mandatory eVerify use for all employers in 2008. "Essentially what happened was that payroll tax revenues went down, but sales tax revenues went down very little," says Hahn. "What analysts concluded was that workers weren't paying income taxes, but they were still earning money to spend. The cash economy was growing because, obviously, people were still working, but they were being taken off the books and outside of the tax system."
She also notes that restaurants in Arizona simply chose not to comply, largely because there is no real enforcement of the law or harsh penalty for not following it. "There's already a big problem of off-the-books employment in the restaurant industry, so employers simply were not complying even though they were required to," says Hahn. "In that first year in Arizona, only one-third of the state's employers signed up. Plenty of unauthorized workers are still making it through the system, such that it's not effective at deterring its stated goal, which is to bring down unauthorized employment."
But in Caramota's view, E-Verify could spur restaurants to innovate their labor practices in some pretty fundamental ways. "You'll start to see employers implementing labor-saving techniques. They may buy bigger dishwashers to eliminate some positions and streamline their kitchen practices," he says. "You might also see a change in that you may have more quick-serve style restaurants where you don't need the same amount of bussers and waiters as you would in a traditional restaurant."