The United States has experienced illegal immigration as a
problem of national attention since the 1970s. Congress has tried to combat the problem through major, but periodic, legislation for nearly as long. In the early 1980s, experts identified employment as the main incentive for illegal immigration. Accordingly, in 1986, Congress passed legislation making it unlawful to knowingly hire illegal immigrant workers. The legislation was very difficult for employers to properly administer, however, and illegal immigrants continued to obtain employment with relative ease. Congress again passed sweeping immigration legislation in 1996, requiring the federal government to pilot test employment verification systems to strengthen immigration enforcement. During the past thirteen years, the Basic Pilot program, now known as “E-Verify,” expanded from five to fifty states, became permanent, underwent several improvements, and is now a well-respected, widely used program, albeit with important remaining challenges. The program’s fundamental challenge is identity
management—authenticating an individual’s true identity based
on biographical information in underlying personal identification
documents. As proponents of E-Verify seek to make the program mandatory nationwide and/or expand its use to verify current employees, this identity management challenge must first be overcome.