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SMITH: Keep E-Verify system

- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2009
COMMENTARY:

When most of us leave the house in the morning to go to work, we secure the door behind us. The windows are closed and locked; the garage door and gates closed.

It's not that we don't realize burglars might still break the window or pick the lock if they were so inclined, but we also recognize that each of these devices - the door locks, the window latches, the closed garage doors and gates - makes the burglar's task that much more difficult and the prospect of our home being targeted less likely.

The need to protect jobs for Americans is clear. Pushing for passage of the stimulus package, President Obama said, "The workers who are returning home to tell their husbands and wives and children that they no longer have a job... they need help now."

Ironically, the same day, news outlets reported that the Obama administration quietly delayed implementation of a rule designed precisely for that purpose: the requirement that federal contractors use E-Verify.

E-Verify is the federal government's system that enables businesses to hire legal workers. It is a sure way to protect jobs for U.S. citizen and legal immigrant workers alike, and ensure their jobs aren't stolen by illegal immigrants.

This voluntary program is currently used by more than 100,000 employees across the nation. And more are signing up every day. A Department of Homeland Security evaluation found 96 percent of participating employers did not believe it overburdened their staffs. And the National Federation for Independent Business supports a bill that would make E-Verify mandatory.

E-Verify immediately confirms 99.4 percent of work-eligible employees. Of the less than 1 percent who had issues to resolve, 95 percent said their problem was resolved with the Social Security Administration in a timely, courteous and efficient manner. More than 6 million queries have been made using the program, all at a minimal cost.

But the program runs the risk of expiring a little more than a month from now. The House of Representatives has taken a number of steps to preserve this important program for businesses and American workers.

In the last term of Congress, the House passed a long term extension of E-Verify by an overwhelming 407-to-2 bipartisan vote. But the bill was held up by a few senators.

This week, as part of the economic stimulus bill, the House once again passed a multiyear extension of the program, as well as new provisions requiring any business that receives funding from the stimulus program to utilize E-Verify.

Now these important provisions go to the Senate, where senators once again have the opportunity to stand up for American workers. They should, because of the urgent need to protect jobs for American workers.

Congress should not just extend E-Verify; it should mandate the program for all businesses with more than five employees and make it permanent.

The nation's jobless rate continues to soar. The Labor Department reports that more than 10 million American workers are looking for jobs; the unemployment rate now stands at 7.2 percent. In the meantime, according to the latest estimates from the Pew Hispanic Center, an estimated 7 million jobs are held by illegal immigrants.

As we look forward, we cannot continue the same policies that allowed millions of illegal immigrants to replace U.S. citizen and legal immigrant workers. As we get our financial house in order, we must save American jobs for citizens and legal immigrants.

Lamar Smith is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas.