By Representatives Lamar Smith and Brian Bilbray
California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed an E-Verify opt-out bill into law. This misguided law encourages illegal immigration and is an endorsement of illegal immigrants taking scarce jobs away from unemployed Americans. And it shows exactly why we need a federal E-Verify requirement.
The Legal Workforce Act (HR 2885) could open up millions of jobs for unemployed American workers by requiring all U.S. employers, including those in California, to use E-Verify. Opponents have claimed the requirement will hurt American workers, small businesses, and is prone to fraud, but they're wrong. The bill is one of the most significant steps we can take to put millions of Americans back to work and curb illegal immigration.
California has the second highest unemployment rate in the country at 12.1 percent; San Diego isn't far behind at 10.2 percent. It's essential we set the record straight on what E-Verify is and how it works.
Created 15 years ago, E-Verify allows employers to electronically verify that newly hired employees are legally authorized to work in the United States.
Specifically, the Social Security numbers of new hires are checked against Social Security Administration (SSA) and Department of Homeland Security records in order to eliminate fraudulent numbers and help ensure that new hires are eligible to work.
In other words, E-Verify is simply a web-based alternative to the error-prone, paper-based I-9 system. The I-9 system is outdated, cumbersome and confusing for employers. The system inherently puts applicants with non-traditional forms of identification at a disadvantage. On the other hand, E-Verify is free, quick, and easy to use. Why wouldn't we want to modernize our employment verification system to fit the 21st century? Opponents have argued E-Verify will burden businesses, but the facts tell another story. Nearly 300,000 American employers voluntarily use E-Verify and more than 1,000 new businesses sign up every week.
The truth is that the business community understands that when one employer hires illegal immigrant labor, often at cheaper rates than legal labor, the entire industry is hurt. So it's no surprise that the Legal Workforce Act is supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association and the American Meat Institute, among many others.
Any claims the program hurts Americans workers are false. Right now, 23 million Americans are unemployed or cannot find full-time work. At the same time, 7 million illegal immigrants work in the United States. A federal E-Verify requirement could help put these Americans back to work by wiping out an illegal workforce.
E-Verify quickly confirms 99.5 percent of work-eligible employees. USCIS and SSA continue to take steps to ensure the accuracy of the E-Verify and other pertinent databases. And the Legal Workforce Act requires that SSA and Homeland Security update their information for accuracy.
Opponents who contend E-Verify is discriminatory are the same people who use heated rhetoric to label any immigration policy with which they disagree "anti-minority." E-Verify doesn't ask race, creed or ethnicity. It merely checks a worker's name and Social Security number to verify that he or she is eligible to work in the United States. E-Verify only differentiates between legal and illegal. There's nothing improper or unfair about that.
Seven million illegal immigrants work in the United States in jobs that should be available to unemployed Americans. At the same time, 25 percent of Latino Americans and 30 percent of blacks with only a high school education can't find a job.
Young adults ages 18 to 29 confront an even bleaker situation. Thirty-four percent in this age bracket with only a high school education cannot find work. It is even worse for minorities: 35 percent for Latinos and 45 percent for blacks in the first quarter of 2011.
E-Verify especially benefits these minority workers by opening up jobs, increasing wages and reducing job competition from illegal workers.
Critics of E-Verify oppose implementation of the system for one big reason: It works. Sift through the rhetoric from E-Verify critics, and it seems opponents don't want illegal workers to return home; they want them to stay and have amnesty. Opponents are putting the interests of illegal workers ahead of American workers.
The Legal Workforce Act received broad support from the House Judiciary Committee in September and is now ready for full consideration before the House. It's time to expand E-Verify, curb incentives that drive illegal immigration and, most importantly, put Americans back to work.