San Bernardino Sun
At a time of rising unemployment, the federal government should focus on creating jobs that will be filled by American citizens, not illegal immigrants, the groups say.
The $819 billion economic stimulus bill approved by the House last month included two provisions related to the E-verify program – an electronic tool that allows employers to verify the legal work status of potential employees.
Two amendments were added to the bill that passed on a party-line vote. One, from Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Riverside, reauthorizes the E-Verify program for four years. The other, from Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Georgia, requires all contractors receiving stimulus funds to verify that their employees are legally authorized to work in the United States.
As the Senate takes up stimulus legislation, Republican lawmakers and anti-illegal-immigration groups are working to include the worker verification requirements in the bill.
"E-Verify is the hinge on which all immigration enforcement and deterrence swings," said Rick Oltman, spokesman for Californians for Population Stabilization. "If you can reliably tell the people of the world that there is no job for you in America because we are checking, that will have an enormous deterrent effect."
E-Verify has been offered free to all employers on a voluntary basis since 2004. As of Jan. 8, about 100,000 employers were enrolled in the program, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The agency operates the program in partnership with the Social Security Administration.
Employers have been able to automatically verify the eligibility of more than 18 million workers since the program started on a limited basis in 1997, according to the agency.
Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, has been a co-sponsor of separate legislation to make E-Verify permanent.
"The congressman feels this is far and away the best way to get at the fundamental problem of unscrupulous employers taking advantage of illegal immigrants and obviously taking advantage of the American workforce," said Jim Specht, Lewis’ spokesman.
Oltman said that making E-Verify mandatory would show the American people that the federal government is serious about stopping illegal immigration.
"Until the federal government makes E-Verify mandatory, only then would I believe they are protecting our sovereignty and securing our border," Oltman said. "Until then, anything they do is a half-measure."
Immigrant advocacy groups say that the issue of verifying worker eligibility should be kept out of the stimulus bill.
Critics contend the program has significant weaknesses, including a reliance on government databases that have unacceptably high error rates. Employers also misuse the program to take adverse actions against workers, according to the National Immigration Law Center, an organization that protects the rights of low-income immigrants and families.
"With the economy the way it is, people can’t afford to be out of work because of an error in a government database," said Tyler Moran, the center’s employment policy director.
Others say the program needs to be carefully reviewed and fixed before it becomes mandatory. Expanding it on a large scale should be done in the context of comprehensive immigration reform, said Michele Waslin, senior policy analyst at the Immigration Policy Center, a pro-immigrant research institution.
"This is not a magic bullet that’s going to solve the problem," Waslin said. "It’s going to end up hurting U.S. workers in the meantime."
Federal officials say they continue to make enhancements to improve the accuracy of the system.
More than 96 percent of qualified employees are automatically cleared by the program, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Specht said the stimulus bill passed by the House contains provisions to strengthen the program.
"Certainly, the congressman believes that there ought to be strong enforcement to ensure that we crack down on anybody who might be abusing the program," Specht said.