Friday, September 26, 2008


No one knows exactly what the fallout will be from the government’s trillion-dollar bailout of our nation’s debt-ridden financial institutions. What is certain is that in the short and medium term, the pain resulting from years of mismanagement, malfeasance, fraud, and criminal negligence on the part of the corporate elite — and the lack of oversight by Congress and the administration — will be felt by millions of Americans who did nothing to create the mess.

Even before our entire economic system reached the verge of total meltdown last week, there were unmistakable signs that we were in for some very hard times. Since the beginning of the year, the U.S. economy has shed more than half-a-million jobs and the rise in unemployment shows no sign of abating. With an election looming just six weeks away, the economy, jobs and preservation of the middle class are just about the only issues on the minds of voters.

But even as millions of American workers face an uncertain economic future, one of the few government protections for their jobs is about to disappear. Unless the Senate reauthorizes the E-Verify system that allows employers to avoid hiring illegal aliens by electronically checking workers’ Social Security numbers, the program will expire in November. Reauthorization is hardly controversial. The House has already reauthorized a five-year extension of E-Verify by a lopsided 407-2 vote; it is more than 99 percent accurate; and several states now require businesses to verify workers’ immigration status.

Only one obstacle stands between American workers and continued protection against losing their jobs to illegal aliens: Sen, Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat. Reauthorization of E-Verify by the Senate is being held hostage by Mr. Menendez, who is demanding the inclusion of an amendment to “recapture” unused immigration visas dating back to 1992.

In all, Mr. Menendez’s amendment would require the issuance of some 570,000 new green cards — a figure roughly equal to the number of jobs our economy has lost this year alone. About half of those green cards would be allocated to work-related immigration categories and the other half to family-based categories, most of whom would also be entering the labor force.

Mr. Menendez may not be able to see Wall Street from his front porch in New Jersey, but he can probably see many of the investment bankers and hedge-fund managers who created the biggest economic disaster this country has seen since the Great Depression (and no doubt he sees many of them at his campaign fundraisers). These and other captains of American business continue to press for more workers, even as unemployment rises, and the elimination of protections for American workers such as E-Verify.

Over the next six weeks, American voters are certain to hear expressions of concern from politicians of every stripe and promises of real reform in Washington. Meanwhile, as the days pass by, it is increasingly likely that the Senate will decamp from Washington without reauthorizing an existing program that is actually working to the benefit of middle-class workers.

Given the trillion-dollar disaster many in Congress failed to avert, and the far-reaching repercussions of the massive bailout plan to this and future generations of American workers, it would seem that the least the Senate leadership can do is remove the roadblock that is Mr. Menendez and take a vote on the E-Verify reauthorization bill that passed the House by a 405-vote margin. Failure to do so will be a clear indication that in spite of the all the hand wringing and fingerpointing, the culture of special-interest politics in Washington that brought our economy to precipice is not likely to change.

There is every justification for reauthorizing E-Verify - a program that already exists and has already proven to protect American workers from losing their jobs to illegal aliens. There is no possible rationale for holding a fire sale on more than half a million new green cards while our economy is teetering on the edge and millions of American workers are likely to pay for mistakes they had no part in making. And there is certainly no justification for holding E-Verify hostage to the demands of those who made the trillion-dollar mistakes.

Dan Stein is president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

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