Should the government be responsible for checking who is eligible to work in the U.S.?

Civil rights groups say no, because they’re worried about discrimination. But a federal program that checks work eligibility, called E-Verify, has plenty of supporters, and more than 400,000 employers use it.

One of the program’s best-informed supporters is Julie Myers Wood, the former head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She’s currently a president at Guidepost Solutions, a company that, among other things, provides software to help employers check the identity of their workers.

Myers Wood spoke with Fusion’s “AMERICA with Jorge Ramos” and told us why she thinks E-Verify should be required for employers across the country.

TH: Why is E-Verify a good idea?

JMW: E-Verify helps employers determine whether or not the individuals who have come in to work for them are actually authorized to work. I think it’s easy to use and I think it’s helpful for employers who are trying to do the right thing, but aren’t good document detectives.

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TH: So E-Verify is a way for employers to protect themselves?

JMW: It’s a way for employers to get some assurance from the federal government that the individuals who come to work are authorized to work. Now, E-Verify does not robustly deal with identity theft, so that’s still a problem. But it gives employers some protection.

TH: During your time at ICE, did you see any specific cases where E-Verify helped protect an employer?

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JMW: We had a number of investigations where we were focusing on potential criminal activities by the company or by the corporate leadership. And when we found the company was on E-Verify, it really negated the criminal intent that we saw. We saw a company that was actually going above and beyond what the law required. And it was very helpful for those companies in terms of a resolution or a settlement of the case.

TH: What about workers? Do they get anything out of E-Verify?

JMW: There have been some occasions in which employers, who may have been well meaning, may act in a discriminatory or other manner [toward] individuals who are authorized to work in the country. The employer may not recognize the particular document that the employee is presenting, or may be confused, or may start engaging in improper behavior. And E-Verify really removes the employer from part of the process and puts it back on the government. And I think that does protect the employee over the long term.

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TH: E-Verify has been criticized because it makes mistakes, especially for immigrants. With that in mind, why are you still in favor of it?

JMW: I think E-Verify is pretty darn good and pretty accurate. It’s not perfect and it’s very important that there be procedures in place for individuals who believe that the E-Verify tentative determination or even final determination is inaccurate — it’s very important to have those safeguards in place.

But at the same time, it’s critical really to look to a government system rather than have the employer make the determination. Think of all the errors that an employer could make in making a determining whether or not someone is authorized to work. And that’s really what the I-9 [employee work eligibility form] asks you to do. So E-Verify, by taking it out of the hands of the employer to a large degree, really improves the process from my perspective.

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TH: Should E-Verify be put into place by itself? Or should it be part of a bigger immigration reform bill?

JMW: I think E-verify should be required even in the absence of immigration reform, but I certainly hope that there will be a broader immigration reform.

I think making E-Verify mandatory really will start to shift the employment patterns in the United States. Many people who are unauthorized come to the U.S. because of work. And if they can’t get a job, if they’re turned down through E-Verify, then they won’t come to the U.S.

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That being said, I think that we don’t have everything right with respect to supply and demand. So it’s important that we look at labor flow and potential immigration reform to address those problems.

TH: If E-Verify becomes mandatory, what happens to the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants?

JMW: I think it’s important that stringent background checks be put in place and that we go through a very strict clearance process, but we have to deal with the reality of the individuals who have been living in this country for years and years and years, and I think it’s the right and appropriate thing to do, to provide adjustment to many of those.

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This interview was edited clarity and length.

Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.