The U.S. House of Representatives has an opportunity this week to establish an actual immigration enforcement system that finally responds to the demands of the vast American majority.
H.R. 4437, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act, is expected to come to the House floor today. The bill includes a number of overdue provisions that address such problems as the egregious “catch and release” practice, where a growing number of illegal aliens known as OTMs, or Other Than Mexicans, are set free on American streets.
But the single most important part of H.R. 4437 is mandatory employment verification.
This provision phases in over several years a program that would soon have all U.S. employers verify their workers’ eligibility to work in this country.
Electronic employment verification has been around since 1996. Known as the Basic Pilot program, it has proven to be a success. It’s very employer-friendly, fast and efficient.
The first several years, Basic Pilot was field tested in a handful of states. Businesses there participated on a voluntary basis. In 2003, the successful program was expanded nationwide, again for voluntary, free participation.
The House Judiciary Committee said when extending the program nationally, "The [INS] report found that ‘an overwhelming majority of employers participating found the basic pilot program to be an effective and reliable tool for employment verification.’”
H.R. 4437 takes the next logical step of phased-in universal participation. Once it’s completely on line, electronic employment verification will help shut down the “jobs magnet” that draws many illegal aliens in the first place.
This represents the most pro-business step there is. Why?
Basic Pilot has proven itself to be employer-friendly. The Immigration and Naturalization Service assessment found 96 percent of participating employers said it is an effective tool for employment verification. Ninety-four percent thought it is more reliable than the presently required document check.
Today, businesses must have new hires complete an I-9 form and show two forms of identification. If the IDs look valid, an employer can’t question their validity, even if the employer has suspicions about certain workers.
Homeland Security has become so slack in employment enforcement, bogus information or identity fraud via the I-9 form is hardly ever found. The forms sit in a file, unchecked.
This weak, loophole-ridden employer sanctions process fosters fraud, abuse and outright lawbreaking. Most American business owners are law-abiding. But they are in a bind when trying to ensure a legal workforce.
Honest businesses face a competitive disadvantage from unscrupulous competitors who exploit these loopholes and hire illegal aliens. As www.smartbusinesspractices.com says, “In some business sectors, owners have been forced by lack of government enforcement into the morally untenable position of breaking the law to hire illegal aliens or risking being driven out of business by competitors who already hire large blocks of illegal workers.”
The beauty of Basic Pilot is that it verifies instantaneously the information employees already provide on I-9s. The program, through a secure Internet system, checks the name, Social Security number and date of birth against federal records.
This program removes an employer’s guesswork, without requiring additional information from employees. It protects employers who rely on the verification system against legal liability. And it weeds out illegal workers well before a business has invested time and money in training them.
The electronic verification system won’t burden businesses. In the INS study, the percentage of employers reporting this process to be “not at all burdensome” jumped from 36 percent before they participated in the program to 60 percent after they started participating. Eighty-three percent of participating employers said it reduced uncertainty regarding work authorization.
Uniform employment verification will protect law-abiding businesses. Because participation in the program is voluntary at present, only honest business owners enroll. Illegitimate employers opt not to use it — thus keeping open their access to an illegal workforce, gaining what amounts to taxpayer subsidy for the costs of running their businesses. Business lawbreakers privatize the benefits and socialize the costs from exploiting illegal alien workers.
Unless all employers and labor contractors must verify employment eligibility, the parallel illegal worker route will continue. Wages will continue to be depressed. Unfair competition will continue. The law-abiding will continue to suffer. The good will keep suffering from the evils of lawbreakers. Mandatory electronic verification is the only workable solution.
Will this approach really shut down the jobs magnet? In the INS report, nearly two-thirds of employers said the number of illegal workers who applied for jobs dropped when the verification system was used.
Across-the-board electronic employment verification is the lynchpin to demagnetize the jobs magnet. Congress should enact it without delay.