EDITORIAL: E-Xpand E-Verify

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Uncle Sam’s history of safeguarding private data is riddled with failures, and the federal track record on handling business regulation without a job-killing burden is worse. That’s why the government should have only private data and regulatory powers that are vital to the core functions of government.

The illegal-immigration-busting E-Verify program focuses on exactly that - enforcing the security of our borders by denying work to those who don’t belong here. The fact that the feds do it fairly efficiently is a bonus.

Congress must reauthorize the program before it expires at the end of the month, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business interests are pushing to soften expanded requirements for federal contractors to use the system.

Though not perfect, E-Verify has improved steadily and is as simple as law enforcement efforts get. Employers type employee tax-form information into a free Web-based system, where it is compared with Social Security and Department of Homeland Security databases. Noncitizens without authorization to work here get flagged.

It’s voluntary for most businesses, but an estimated 150,000 employers have enrolled in the program, with more than 7 million checks in more than a decade. One in four new employees nationwide is being checked to see if he or she is authorized to work in the United States. Reported problems have declined significantly, and false positives now are at about 1 percent.

The program’s benefits extend beyond simple verification, fostering stronger compliance with and enforcement of immigration laws. As the Heritage Foundation’s James J. Carafano has pointed out, the Department of Homeland Security has established E-Verify as the base for a valuable effort training private-sector employees on how to spot document fraud and audit compliance. If companies police themselves, leviathan stays out of the way.

Ensuring that workers are legal is simple common sense. But after first pushing to stop the federal contractor mandate, the chamber is now asking Congress to exempt certain types of federal contractors and contracts in provisions of the 2010 homeland security appropriations bill that will continue E-Verify.

The purpose behind the effort is transparent. Industries that benefit from a tolerant attitude toward illegal workers resent E-Verify’s effectiveness. The Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. is among those who have fought the contractor mandate. While overall construction employment rose 5 percent between 2005 and 2006, the number of Hispanics employed increased at triple the rate, according to a 2007 Pew Hispanic Center report. Of those, 43 percent were recently arrived immigrants, two-thirds of whom are estimated to be in the country illegally. E-Verify helps stem that tide at a cost to businesses employing illegal workers.

A carve-out to keep contractors from having to recheck existing legal workers makes sense, eliminating a burden that serves little purpose. Social Security and the Department of Homeland Security also need to continue improving the database, and the program should be expanded to verify whether job applicants are actually who they say they are. E-Verify ultimately represents the sort of simple and efficient immigration-enforcement mechanism that the federal government and corporate America should embrace, even if a few would rather have license to evade the law.

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