If there was ever a time to reserve American jobs for those with a legal right to work in the United States, the time is now.
The U.S. unemployment rate has now hovered at or above 9 percent for the past 23 months, topping 8 percent for the last 28 months. In the meantime, an estimated 7 million people are working illegally in the U.S., taking American jobs.
That is the primary reason Congress and the president must make E-Verify mandatory. E-Verify is an easy-to-use, accurate, computer-based, employee verification system that ensures employees have a legal right to work in the U.S.
On June 15, I conducted a hearing on the Legal Workforce Act in my role as chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement. The Legal Workforce Act would make E-Verify mandatory for all employers. It would be phased in over two years and takes into consideration the special circumstances of agriculture.
Fifteen years ago, I introduced the program that evolved into E-Verify, then called the Basic Pilot Program, which was included in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, Rep. Ken Calvert of Corona and I have been working to make the program mandatory since the Basic Pilot Program became law.
Making E-Verify mandatory will remove the primary factor that entices people to illegally cross our borders or overstay their visas -- the ability to take an American job. When companies like Chipotle are audited and 500 of its illegal workers are fired, the workers will not be able to cross the street and take a job at another establishment.
Mandatory E-Verify also will deter those who enter the United States on a temporary visa but never leave. Forty percent of illegal immigrants are visa overstays, many of whom take high-end jobs from Americans.
E-Verify simply matches a person's name, Social Security number and birth date against Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security databases. Its accuracy rate is far superior to the I-9 forms that are currently used to check eligibility, it lowers costs for employers and it is race neutral. Although the program is currently voluntary, more than 250,000 American employers willingly use E-Verify and an average of 1,300 new businesses sign up each week.
The Legal Workforce Act would:
* Balance immigration enforcement priorities and legitimate employer concerns by giving employers a workable system under which they cannot be held liable if they use the system in good faith.
* Give Immigration Services additional tools to help prevent identity theft. For example, the bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to allow individuals to "lock" their own Social Security number so that it cannot be used by imposters to verify work eligibility.
* Require Immigration Services to "lock" the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number or Social Security number of non-U.S. citizens who are deported, are voluntarily returned, voluntarily depart, or whose work authorization expires so that no one can get a job using those same numbers.
* Phase in mandatory E-Verify participation for new hires in six-month increments, beginning with businesses having more than 10,000 employees six months after enactment and reaching full implementation 24 months later.
The bill recognizes that, unlike other industries, agriculture employs workers whose skills are not readily available in the United States. Therefore, the bill does not require E-Verify for farm workers until three years after enactment, giving Congress time to devise an effective guest worker program for agricultural workers.
The time to make E-Verify mandatory is now.