By Representative Elton Gallegly
Congress immediately needs to pass and the president to sign into law the Legal Workforce Act. It would open millions of jobs for American workers while removing counterfeiting and fraud from the hiring process. The Legal Workforce Act already has passed the Judiciary Committee and is ready for House action. The act would make it mandatory for all employers to use E-Verify -- an easy-to-use, accurate, computer-based, employee-verification system that ensures employees have a legal right to work in the United States.
For 37 straight months, beginning right after President Obama signed his $1 trillion stimulus package, the U.S. unemployment rate has exceeded 8 percent, the longest streak since the 1930s. The House has passed 27 job-creating bills that are sitting in the Senate awaiting action. House leadership even distributed cards listing the 27 bills, which it touts at press conferences as the House jobs package.
I believe these bills are good and well-intended and would create jobs over the long term. I voted for them, but it is highly unlikely the bills will ever pass the Senate. Even if they did, the bills contain no guarantees the jobs would go to citizens and legal workers.
The Legal Workforce Act is the one bill the House can send to the Senate that is guaranteed -- guaranteed -- to free up more jobs for American workers. I am confident it would pass the Senate and be signed by the president. Few would vote against or veto a bill that creates millions of jobs for Americans and is politically popular. In fact, with the number of senators up for re-election, it would be highly unlikely for the Senate to vote against it. A recent Pulse Opinion Research poll found that among likely voters, 94 percent of Republicans, 81 percent of Democrats and 84 percent of independents support requiring all U.S. employers to use E-Verify.
More significantly, 76 percent to 81 percent of likely minority voters support mandatory E-Verify.
E-Verify catches counterfeit and fraudulent documents that illegal immigrants use to obtain work in the United States. In 2006, the Social Security Administration sent more than 10 million letters to workers whose names and Social Security numbers didn't match. But the SSA never followed up.
When E-Verify is fully implemented and the counterfeiting and fraud are exposed, most of those jobs will become available to American workers.
What other bill can guarantee millions of unskilled, low-skill and high-skill jobs for Americans immediately?
Minority voters support E-Verify because illegal immigration hurts mostly those Americans who can least afford it, unskilled and low-skilled workers. If the president and Congress wish to help these workers, the Legal Workforce Act is the clear road to do so. When the Chipotle fast-food company was audited and hundreds of its illegal workers were fired, American citizens lined up for blocks the next day for a chance at those jobs.
But not all illegal immigrants are unskilled or low-skilled labor or from Latin American countries. In fact, 40 percent of illegal immigrants are visa overstays from European, Asian and other countries, many of whom take high-end jobs from Americans. E-Verify also would return those high-skilled jobs to American workers.
Sixteen years ago, E-Verify was enacted into law as a voluntary program. Rep. Ken Calvert of California and I have been working together from the beginning to make it mandatory.
Even though it's a voluntary program, more than 300,000 employers use it. It's a huge success for those who wish to work within the law and hire American workers.
On the other hand, making E-Verify mandatory would remove the primary factor that entices people to come and stay here illegally -- the ability to take an American job. When companies such as Chipotle are audited and their illegal workers are fired, illegal workers won't be able to cross the street and take a job from another American worker. Mandatory E-Verify also would deter those who enter the United States on temporary visas but never leave.
Without the ability to obtain a job in the United States, most illegal immigrants will self-deport, as evidenced by the number of illegal immigrants who have self-deported during the building industry downturn.
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 that of the I-9 forms that currently are used to check eligibility, it lowers costs for employers, and it's race-neutral.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data from 2010 show that 98.3 percent of employees were confirmed as work-authorized instantly or within 24 hours using E-Verify. A 2009 report by the research firm Westat found that those eligible to work are immediately confirmed 99.5 percent of the time.
We know the bill would open millions of jobs for American workers. It would lessen the need to keep extending unemployment benefits. It's also politically popular.
There is no economic or political reason to delay making E-Verify mandatory. To move this bill forward is the ultimate and easy way to prove our commitment to putting Americans back to work.
For the sake of American workers, it must be brought to the House floor for a vote now.
Rep. Elton Gallegly, California Republican, is chairman of the Judiciary Committee's immigration policy and enforcement subcommittee.