Illegal aliens seeking employment in the United States were among the winners in the stimulus package passed recently by Congress - and that strikes a blow against the job prospects of American citizens and non-citizens legally authorized to work in this country. This occurs as a byproduct of the failure to reauthorize the E-Verify system, a critical tool used by more and more employers to ensure that each of their workers is authorized to work in the United States.
Operated by the Department of Homeland Security in conjunction with the Social Security Administration, E-Verify is a computer application that enables employers to verify the work-authorization status of newly hired workers. Since 2006 the number of employers using the voluntary E-Verify system has risen almost tenfold to nearly 100,000.
That's not surprising, because the system is 99.5 percent accurate, according to DHS, and it permits employers to verify work eligibility in minimal time (10 minutes or less) and at minimal cost ($419 per year for a federal contractor of 10 employees). These compliance costs compare favorably to the far greater expense and disruption of immigration raids that result in the sudden arrests of illegal workers.
Despite unbecoming opposition from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the House voted last July 31 to reauthorize E-Verify by a vote of 407 to 2. Although, in the Senate, Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and open-borders advocate, put a "hold" on the bill in an unsuccessful attempt to block reauthorizing E-Verify, Congress voted last year to reauthorize the program as an emergency measure through March 6, one week from now.
This year the House voted to attach a four-year reauthorization of E-Verify to the $800 billion-plus stimulus bill, but the Senate rebuffed Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, when he tried to do that in the Senate, and conferees stripped the House language from the legislation. So E-Verify dies next week, barring resurrection.
The real mystery today is what the Obama administration will do.
During last year's presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama declared his support for E-Verify. But with the election behind him and politically powerful groups like the National Council of La Raza, the ACLU, and the Chamber of Commerce (which should be ashamed of itself) decidedly hostile to anything that smacks of immigration enforcement, President Obama may be having second thoughts. On Jan. 29, the administration "put a hold" until at least May on a rule requiring federal contractors paid with taxpayer dollars to use E-Verify to ensure that their employees were legally authorized to work. And DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano has posted on its Web site a "Border Security Directive" that includes a detailed series of questions suggesting that E-Verify is plagued by problems and that the Obama administration may not be very interested in reauthorizing the program. "Is the real intent to study it to death or fix it?", asks Janice Kephart, director of national security policy with the Center for Immigration Studies and a former counsel to the September 11 commission.
These actions, and the administration's failure to prevent the House E-Verify reauthorization language from staying in the stimulus bill, suggest that - at best - the administration isn't terribly interested for now in fighting for a valuable tool for protecting the jobs of people who play by the rules. The big losers will be working-class Americans and foreigners who are legally authorized to work in the United States - the very people the administration claims to be fighting for.