No matter who wins on Nov. 4, the next president will have to tackle our nation’s failed immigration policies. And thanks to a little noticed provision in the continuing resolution that Congress passed to keep the government functioning through next March, they will have to address it sooner than they might otherwise have wished. A mere 45 days after either John McCain or Barack Obama is sworn into office, the authorization for the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify program is set to expire. This would be a major setback for one of the few bright spots in recent immigration policy.
E-Verify is a real-time, web-based verification system run by the DHS and the Social Security Administration. An employer enters information provided by prospective employees (from the I-9 form) into an online portal. The system then compares that data to Social Security and DHS databases. It then issues either a confirmation or a non-confirmation, which can later be approved upon clearing up any discrepancies. If not resolved, a final non-confirmation is issued and the employer is not allowed hire the worker. The error rate for E-Verify is under 4% of all queries, and DHS has established a quick, user-friendly readdress process for verification errors.
The majority of people who enter the U.S. illegally do so for purposes of employment. Employment of such individuals has been illegal since 1986, although that law has never been seriously enforced. If access to employment were curtailed in accord with that law, many (probably even a large majority) of current illegal immigrants would leave the country voluntarily, and the number of future illegal entrants would be greatly reduced. To accomplish this without resorting to a method of routinely rounding up and deporting thousands of illegal workers only to have them return and obtain another readily available job, policy should focus on the businesses that hire illegal immigrants and let general employment rules rather than individual arrests drive the reduction in illegal immigration. E-Verify is an essential tool of this policy approach.
Currently, E-Verify is free for all and voluntary for most business. More than 80,000 employers participate in E-Verify, and E-Verify has verified the identity of more than 5.3 million workers. Some states have even made E-Verify mandatory, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — the most liberal appellate court in America — recently upheld their right to do so. But Congress can take even more steps to improve the program, including increasing opportunities for individuals to review the accuracy of their records, penalizing employers who continues to employ workers who have failed verification, and establish supplemental procedures to prevent employment by means of identity fraud.
E-Verify is the most promising, effective and useful employment verification tool in use today. Congress should reauthorize E-Verify as it currently exists and work to expand its reach and efficacy significantly in recognition of the fact that the law prohibits employers from hiring illegal immigrants and that the objective of E-Verify is to enforce that law.
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