US E-Verify bill hit, defended

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A protester holds a cross and a sign that reads in Spanish ‘We all are Jose Alfredo Yanez Reyes’ during a protest near the international border fence in Tijuana, Mexico, Friday. The protest was held in reaction to the June 21 killing of a migrant, Jose Alfredo Yanes Reyes, by a US Border Patrol agent. AP

WASHINGTON—Republicans in Congress have proposed legislation to make it mandatory for US employers to electronically verify workers’ legal status as a means of discouraging illegal immigration and preserving jobs for Americans.

House Judiciary Committee chair Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and 11 other Republicans introduced the so-called E-Verify bill, also known as the Legal Workforce Act, which requires employers to use a Homeland Security Department electronic data base to check the immigration status of newly-hired workers.

The proponents said the measure has a good chance of passing the GOP-controlled House.

At the Senate, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and nine other fellow Republicans have introduced a companion bill, but the fate of the measure passing is probably less certain in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Smith said the proposed measure would make more jobs available to millions of unemployed Americans, who, he said, are being eased out by undocumented immigrants.

“Seven million individuals work illegally in the United States. These jobs should go to legal workers,” Smith said. “And Congress has the opportunity to make sure this happens.”

He said E-Verify, an electronic employment eligibility verification system available free online, allows employers to quickly identify those working illegally in the United States.

Requiring its compulsory use by all employers would weed out illegal workers and open up more jobs for Americans and legal immigrants, Smith added.

The US Chamber of Commerce threw its support behind the bill but said it is only one component of immigration policy that needs to be addressed by “balancing many competing interests.”

“While some concerns and technical issues may arise as the bill is subject to hearings and line-by-line analysis, this legislation represents a legitimate balancing of many competing interests. We hope to continue to work with Chairman Smith to resolve any impediments to passage as the legislation moves forward,” said Randy Johnson, vice president of the chamber.

“The chamber believes a workable employment verification system addresses only one part of our nation’s dysfunctional immigration system in need of reform,” Johnson added. “It is our hope that Congress can also move legislation concerning other aspects of immigration reform, recognizing that compromises will be necessary.”

But opponents of the bill warned the bill, if passed, would have disastrous impact on local industries, especially those in agriculture, and do more harm than good to the US economy.

Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-California) said that by requiring all employers to use E-Verify, the bill grows the government and adds tens of billions to the burden already shouldered by taxpayers.

The San Jose lawmaker stressed that the system “does not even work half of the time and could shrink the economy, decimate at least one industry, and destroy millions of jobs.”

Lofgren pointed out that since 2005, every serious proposal to “fix our broken immigration laws” has included an electronic system as a means of ensuring those legally allowed to work make it to the American workforce.

“Some now want to move E-Verify on its own … Without other reforms to fix the entire system, mandatory E-Verify would cause tremendous damage to our economy and kill American jobs,” Lofgren said.

According to supporters of E-Verify, the system — which is already mandatory in such states as Arizona, Alabama and Georgia — is simple, convenient and free.

Numbers USA, an organization that espouses cutting back present levels of immigration, said that the use of E-Verify is the smart thing to do for any employer now, even while the bill is pending.

“An employer who uses the pilot in good faith cannot be held liable for hiring an illegal alien — use of the system is an affirmative defense — or for discrimination because he never has to ask the candidate for more or different documents since the computer does all of the checking,” the group explained in its website.

Moreover, mandatory use of E-Verify (formerly Basic Pilot Program) ensures that all U.S. businesses operate on a level playing field, Numbers USA said.

Detractors argued that E-Verify “is good only on paper and that its full implementation would do more harm” to Americans — unless it becomes part of a broader, comprehensive measure to address the immigration system.

According to those opposed to the bill, the E-Verify system is imperfect and the accuracy cited by Smith could be misleading because it refers only to verification of workers with legitimate documents. For instance, the system fails to verify undocumented workers half of the time because many of them use valid documents belonging to other people, critics said.

Moreover, the system tends to flag people with common names — Hispanics and even Filipinos, such as Cruz, Santos and Perez — because of identity confusion or even inconsistencies in the US documents.

The pro-immigration advocacy group, National Immigration Forum, observed that naturalized US citizens are 32 times more likely to be erroneously flagged by the system compared to US-born citizens, resulting in grave injustice.

Eliseo Medina, international secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, branded the bill a “jobs killer” that would lead to hundreds of thousands of job losses, spike business costs, and cripple key industries like restaurants and agriculture.

The damage would be particularly “devastating” on farm companies, because two-thirds of their workforce is undocumented, said Medina, a former California farm worker.

He said taxpayers also stand to lose billion of dollars when disqualified workers and their employers go off the tax rolls and into the cash economy.

“An expanded underground economy drives down wages for all US workers — US born and immigrant,” Medina said.

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