Congress has the opportunity to enact the Legal Workforce Act, a bill that could open up millions of jobs for unemployed Americans. This bill improves and makes mandatory the E-Verify program for all U.S. employers. E-Verify quickly identifies those working illegally in the United States.
Although some states already have an E-Verify law on the books, Congress can and should act to require all employers to use this successful program. A federal requirement making E-Verify mandatory for all U.S. employers is essential to protecting jobs for American workers and reducing the jobs magnet that encourages illegal immigration.
A national E-Verify mandate is important to the goal of attrition through enforcement. In a 2008 article, pro-enforcement advocate Kris Kobach wrote that "the most important of these steps is the first - making E-Verify mandatory for all employers nationwide."
Although the Legal Workforce Act pre-empts state E-Verify laws, it supports states' rights because it retains the inherent ability of states and localities to issue or rescind business licenses based on the requirement that the employer use E-Verify as directed by federal law.
There are a number of reasons why we need the same E-Verify program for all U.S. employers. Just 17 out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia have an E-Verify mandate in place. The states that have passed E-Verify laws have done so because the federal government has failed to fully enforce immigration laws. Their efforts to stop illegal immigration have helped pave the way for the Legal Workforce Act.
Unfortunately, states that currently have an E-Verify mandate only apply it in a limited way. For example, Virginia's mandate applies only to state agencies and contractors. Utah's mandate applies only to state agencies and employers with 15 or more employees. North Carolina's E-Verify law applies only to state offices and agencies.
Many states are not enforcing their own E-Verify laws. Mississippi and Arizona fall into this category.
In fact, the Clarion Ledger reported that "the Legislature passed the Mississippi Employment Protection Act, also referred to as the E-Verify law, in 2008. It has taken effect in phases, based on company size. ... During a two-day immigration hearing at the Capitol this week, lawmakers heard there have been no investigations into whether companies are conducting the required checks."
More than three years after the Arizona E-Verify mandate was signed into law, a 2010 brief to the U.S. Supreme Court stated that to date "only three enforcement actions have been filed against Arizona employers."
Some states with the largest illegal immigrant populations, such as California and New York, will almost certainly never require the use of E-Verify. This means employers will continue to be free to hire illegal workers.
So the only way for E-Verify to apply to all employers is to enact the Legal Workforce Act. The bill will also make it easier to enforce the law. Instead of federal officials having to conduct audits, they can simply check to see if the employer is using E-Verify. And because all the E-Verify, work-authorization and identity-check document attestations are electronic, it will take less time and fewer resources for them to ensure employers are complying with the law.
With the national unemployment rate around 9 percent for two years, it's time to make E-Verify mandatory for all U.S. employers.
Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
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