Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) passed two amendments to help small businesses during the Judiciary Committee's hearing to debate and amend the immigration reform bill that will likely soon come before the full Senate.
If passed, the immigration reform bill will require all employers to electronically verify that their employees are legally eligible to work. After meeting with dairy farmers, nurseries, and other small businesses in Minnesota, Sen. Franken has led the charge in the Senate to make improvements to the "E-Verify" system in order to prevent it from negatively affecting legal workers and small businesses that do not have the resources to deal with errors that currently exist in the system.
A 2009 independent audit revealed that E-Verify incorrectly rejected 1 out of 125 legal workers. While the Department of Homeland Security now self-reports better accuracy rates, mandatory enrollment in E-Verify is expected to cause error rates to increase.
"Our broken immigration system needs to be fixed, but if we're going to put new systems in place they have to work as well as the federal government says they do-that includes E-Verify," said Sen. Franken. "While I support having employers use E-Verify, we don't want any new requirements to hurt our small business or legal employees. My amendments will go a long way to make sure this doesn't happen and I'm glad they have now been included in the bill."
Sen. Franken's first amendment requires annual audits of the E-Verify system to determine its accuracy. It also halves the maximum per-violation penalty for a business' first-time misuse or non-use of E-Verify during any year after an audit showing too-high error rates. This reduction will not apply to any business that has previously violated any part of E-Verify. This will create pressure on the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that oversees the system, to lower the rate of E-Verify errors.
Sen. Franken's second amendment requires the Department of Homeland Security to create the Office of Small Business and Employee Advocate and gives it the power to intervene in conflicts to help small businesses and employees who are experiencing problems with E-Verify.