By Lamar Smith and Elton Gallegly
Over the last few years, our economy has faced unprecedented challenges, and millions of Americans have lost their jobs. For two years, the unemployment rate has hovered around 9%.
While 26 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed, 7 million individuals work illegally in the United States. On top of all the challenges Americans face today, it is inexcusable that Americans and legal workers have to compete with illegal immigrants for scarce jobs.
Fortunately, there is a tool available to preserve jobs for legal workers: E-Verify. But the program is voluntary. Congress has the opportunity to expand E-Verify -- including making it mandatory -- so more job opportunities are made available to unemployed Americans.
Created under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, E-Verify is a Web-based system that allows employers to electronically verify the work eligibility of newly hired employees. The Social Security numbers and alien identification numbers of new hires are checked against Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security records to weed out fraudulent numbers and help ensure that new hires are legally authorized to work in the United States.
The program quickly confirms 99.5% of work-eligible employees. Even though E-Verify is not mandatory, many employers willingly use the program. More than 250,000 American employers currently use it, and an average of 1,300 new businesses sign up each week.
Part of the reason for E-Verify's success is that participating employers are happy with the results. Outside evaluations have found that the vast majority of employers using E-Verify believe it to be an effective and reliable tool for checking the legal status of their employees. In fact, after being subjected to several Immigration and Customs Enforcement I-9 audits, Chipotle now uses E-Verify at all of its restaurants nationwide to help ensure that it hires legal workers.
E-Verify has proved to be much more reliable than the current paper-based, error-prone I-9 system. Under the I-9 system, the employer only has to attest that an identification document "reasonably appears on its face to be genuine." The problem is that fake documents are produced by the millions and can be obtained cheaply. This has undermined the I-9 system.
In addition, when the National Federation for Independent Business polled its members, 76% said it would be a minimal or no burden if "there was one telephone number and/or a single Internet website where you could check a new employee's eligibility to work, something like a merchant's capacity to check the validity of a credit card." This describes E-Verify.
And E-Verify recently received an exceptionally high overall customer satisfaction score -- 82 out of 100 on the American Customer Satisfaction Index scale. The government's overall satisfaction score is only 69.
With this sort of track record, it is no surprise that 82% of likely voters responding to a recent Rasmussen poll thought businesses should be required to use E-Verify.
Last year, the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services implemented a photo-matching tool as part of E-Verify. This allows an employer to view a picture of the employee -- from a green card, an employment authorization document or a passport -- to determine that the employee is in fact the person to whom that Social Security number or alien identification number was issued.
The Department of Homeland Security also recently announced the rollout of the E-Verify self-check system. This will allow job-seekers to check their own employment status and resolve immigration problems before applying for a position. Although E-Verify self-check is available only in a handful of states, it is expected to expand to other states within a year.
E-Verify is a successful tool for employers looking to hire a legal workforce. It also helps reduce the jobs magnet that encourages illegal immigration. In fact, since the implementation of Arizona state legislation requiring the use of E-Verify, the state has seen a 17% decrease in its illegal immigrant population, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
That's why the House Judiciary Committee is focused on making E-Verify mandatory.
It is crucial that we promote policies that help grow our economy and increase job opportunities for Americans and legal immigrants. This includes building on the successes of the E-Verify program and making it mandatory through a gradual phase-in for all employers. Of course, mandatory E-Verify should be coupled with a "safe harbor" for employers who use the program correctly and, through no fault of theirs, receive an incorrect eligibility confirmation.
As long as opportunities for employment exist, the incentive to enter the United States illegally or to overstay visas will continue and efforts to stop illegal entry at U.S. borders will be undermined. It is time to make E-Verify mandatory.