KEPHART: E-Verify ambush

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COMMENTARY:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has launched an all-out attack on E-Verify, the successful federal program that allows employers to screen out illegal aliens at the beginning of the hiring process. Why?

It has taken more than 20 years, but E-Verify is finally in a form that is helpful to those employers who choose to use it. It’s on the Web, with straightforward access. Error rates are low. The human-resource personnel who use it attest that it is easy to use, cheap and helps straighten out hiring issues up front, before cost and disruption become a grave concern. The most recent labor statistics show about 1 in 8 new hires nationwide is now checked through the system. E-Verify has clear momentum.

E-Verify replaced a paper-based system that employers incessantly moaned about for good reason. Even after Sept. 11, 2001, employers were in a no-win situation with the federal government; they faced an immigration law rightly forbidding the hiring of illegal workers but had to rely on a paper-based system which couldn’t verify the identities or documents of new hires.

Then, with the creation of E-Verify in 2004, the main burden for determining work authorization shifted to the government in a meaningful way, modernizing what was known as the Basic Pilot Program.

E-Verify taps into the Social Security Administration (SSA) database for verification and, for foreign workers, checks with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Photos are available for those presenting immigration cards as their IDs, and this is to be expanded to include passport photos and, hopefully, driver’s license photos as well.

Kinks in the system are continually being fixed at a remarkable pace; 94 percent of hires are now verified instantly, with a mere 1 percent requiring further action - and most of these are new citizens who haven’t had their Social Security information updated. The rest are rejected as not authorized to work. Chilling - and perhaps good proof that E-Verify is doing its job - is that the numbers rejected by E-Verify as not authorized to work closely parallels the estimated percentage of illegal aliens in the work force, about 5 percent.

It is mystifying, then, that the Chamber so vigorously attacks E-Verify, including opposition to a pending rule that federal contractors, paid with taxpayer money, be required to use E-Verify when hiring to help them better abide by the law that requires them not to hire illegal aliens in the first place. Doesn’t the Chamber appreciate a program that’s working to protect them and is fast, efficient and a good value? The Chamber claims E-Verify is full of mistakes and non-matches, yet the numbers don’t back that up.

The pending rule regarding federal contractors actually reduces exposure to sanctions if employers simply sign up to use E-Verify. Specifically, it states: “Contractors that adopt rigorous employment eligibility confirmation policies are much less likely to face immigration enforcement actions. … It is the policy of the executive branch to use an electronic employment verification system because … it provides the best available means to confirm identity and work eligibility.”

Perhaps the Chamber doesn’t appreciate that a business that checks new hires through E-Verify will be spared future raids like recent ones in Mississippi, North Carolina and Massachusetts. The Mississippi raid this past week was the largest in history, with 595 workers arrested. Just this year, 1,593 workers have been arrested at sites. The North Carolina firm was actually a longstanding federal contractor, and the CEO said his company was unaware of the illegal workers, having checked driver licenses, Social Security cards and Green Cards. But the CEO wasn’t using E-Verify. If any of those workers caught were hired since 2004, E-Verify checks could have saved disruption and trauma to those detained workers and their families - a significant hardship the Chamber ignores. The Chamber also ignores the fact that illegal workers can be blackmailed by those seeking access to sensitive facilities. Any business should want protection from being tied to another attack like that of Sept. 11, 2001.

Doesn’t the Chamber appreciate that the “comprehensive immigration reform” it seeks won’t happen until the American people are assured that our immigration laws are being enforced? Instead, the Chamber has lobbied Congress hard not to reauthorize E-Verify.

When the Chamber failed to kill E-Verify in the House and lost by a vote of 407 to 2, it moved its efforts to the Senate. Right now, Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, has a hold on E-Verify, preventing even a vote on this important program. If not reauthorized, it will simply disappear this November. The Chamber may just get what it wants.

In short, the visceral reaction of the Chamber to E-Verify doesn’t make sense. It’s working better than any interior immigration program we have yet to see. It is undergoing continual improvements to address the small error rates and costs, and to simplify use.

E-Verify is good government in practice; not a burden but a help. Unless, of course, you don’t want to know if you’re hiring illegal aliens.

Janice Kephart is a former counsel to the Sept. 11 Commission, a president of 9/11 Security Solutions, and current director of national security studies at the Center for Immigration Studies.

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