The opportunity for employment has attracted an unprecedented number of immigrants—both legal and illegal—to the United States for more than a decade. The American economy is increasingly dependent upon minimum wage, low-skill labor, often provided by undocumented workers who are ineligible for authorized employment. As of March 2010, more than 11.2 million illegal immigrants were living in the United States and an estimated eight million of them belonged to the nation’s workforce. The Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization chronicling the growing impact of Latinos in the United States, estimates that unauthorized immigrants made up 3.7 percent of the nation’s population and nearly 5.2 percent of the country’s labor force in 2010. In North Carolina alone, the foreign-born share of the state’s population rose from 1.7 percent in 1990 to 7.5 percent in 2010. Although the number of foreign-born workers increased nationally more than 40 percent between 2000 and 2010, the number of immigrant, civilian employed workers age sixteen and older in North Carolina increased nearly 70 percent—comprising 10.1 percent of the state’s total civilian workforce in 2010. In 2010, undocumented, illegal immigrants comprised an estimated 5.4 percent of the state’s workforce, or 250,000 workers.
In response to these growing statistics and the attendant political pressure on the state’s legislators to reduce the number of unauthorized immigrants entering the labor force, North Carolina’s General Assembly enacted section 64-26 on June 23, 2011 in order to require private employers with more than 25 employees to verify the employment eligibility of newly hired workers using the federal electronic program known as E-Verify. Although the mandate is intended to protect the jobs of authorized workers and to help employers maintain a legal workforce, the adverse consequences of the E-Verify system outweigh the intended benefits. This Recent Development demonstrates that requiring North Carolina employers to use E-Verify in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform is not a sensible solution to the problem of unlawful immigration. Part I of this article provides an overview of the E-Verify system at the federal level, explores the various actions individual states have taken to address employer use of the program, and examines the mandatory E-Verify statute in North Carolina. Part II of this article exposes the unintended consequences of implementing such a program in North Carolina. In Part III, this Recent Development concludes by suggesting that, while employment verification should be at the center of immigration enforcement, any mandatory E-Verify proposal should be considered only at the federal level and implemented alongside a broader immigration reform.