Congress con­sid­ers na­tion­wide use of E-ver­ify

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Af­ter months on the back burner, the im­mi­gra­tion is­sue re­turned to the po­lit­i­cal fore­front last week when House Repub­li­cans took the first steps to re­quire all busi­nesses to ver­ify their em­ploy­ees’ work sta­tus elec­tron­i­cally.

The ac­tion started in the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, which be­gan con­sid­er­ing a bill to man­date use of E-Ver­ify, a govern­ment-run sys­tem that en­ables busi­nesses to check po­ten­tial em­ploy­ees’ So­cial Se­cu­rity numbers against a govern­ment data­base. The pro­gram is avail­able cur­rently on a vol­un­tary ba­sis.

Com­mit­tee Chair­man La­mar Smith, Texas Repub­li­can and author of the bill, said he con­sid­ers it a jobs mea­sure that could help put Amer­i­cans back to work in tough eco­nomic times by weed­ing out unau­tho­rized em­ploy­ees. The bill has gained the sup­port of busi­nesses, which want a uni­form national stan­dard.

“This leg­is­la­tion rep­re­sents a le­git­i­mate bal­anc­ing of many com­pet­ing in­ter­ests,” the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce said in an­nounc­ing its back­ing ear­lier this year.

Op­po­nents, in­clud­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, have said there is a place for E-Ver­ify, but it must be cou­pled with a broader re­write of im­mi­gra­tion laws that in­cludes le­gal­iza­tion and a way to han­dle a fu­ture flow of im­mi­grants.

“If your an­swer is to en­force a dys­func­tional sys­tem, you’re go­ing to have prob­lems,” said Rep. Zoe Lof­gren, of Cal­i­for­nia, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the im­mi­gra­tion sub­com­mit­tee.

She said the pro­gram is not fool­proof and added that the er­ror rate is par­tic­u­larly high among nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zens. She also pointed to stud­ies that found half of il­le­gal im­mi­grant work­ers whose names were sub­mit­ted were ap­proved any­way.

It is the first ma­jor im­mi­gra­tion leg­is­la­tion to see ac­tion since last year’s lame-duck ses­sion of Congress, when Democrats tried but failed to pass the Dream Act, which would have le­gal­ized many il­le­gal im­mi­grant young adults.

In lieu of con­gres­sional ac­tion, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced it will use dis­cre­tion to halt de­por­ta­tions of those who would have been af­fected by the Dream Act.

Mr. Smith also has sched­uled ac­tion on a sep­a­rate bill to re­vamp agri­cul­tural visas.

The leg­is­la­tion man­dat­ing EVer­ify has a dif­fi­cult path ahead. Sev­eral House com­mit­tees have ju­ris­dic­tion, and even if they all ap­prove it, it would need to se­cure time on the crowded House sched­ule. Then it would have to pass the Se­nate, which Democrats con­trol, and be signed by Pres­i­dent Obama.

Mr. Smith said if the bill gets that far, Mr. Obama will sign it.

“When you have some­thing that’s sup­ported by 82 per­cent of the Amer­i­can peo­ple, I don’t be­lieve the pres­i­dent will veto it,” he said.

The bill would phase in the re­quire­ment over two years, with larger busi­nesses re­quired to com­ply within six months and the small­est busi­nesses given more time.

E-Ver­ify was cre­ated in 1996, when it was known as the ba­sic pi­lot pro­gram and was a vol­un­tary method for busi­nesses to check their em­ploy­ees’ im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus.

As in many other im­mi­gra­tion is­sues, states took the lead in ex­pand­ing its use, and more than a dozen states have rules re­quir­ing at least some busi­nesses to sub­mit work­ers’ in­for­ma­tion. Ari­zona’s ver­sion was up­held by the Supreme Court ear­lier this year. The Smith bill would su­percede those state laws, pro­vid­ing a uni­form national frame­work, but im­mi­gra­tion crack­down ad­vo­cates said it also would take away states’ abil­ity to pun­ish com­pa­nies that flout the law.

As of Sept. 10, 287,995 em­ploy­ers were reg­is­tered to use EVer­ify, rep­re­sent­ing 947,445 hir­ing sites. In fis­cal 2011, which be­gan Oct. 1, the sys­tem had run 16.2 mil­lion queries.

The U.S. Bureau of Ci­ti­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices, which runs the pro­gram, said ac­cu­racy is im­prov­ing. The lat­est fig­ures show 3 out of ev­ery 1,000 work­ers re­ceive an ini­tial, in­cor­rect re­jec­tion of their work sta­tus.

Rep. Zoe Lof­gren.

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