No Check, Just Visa

The Democratic Congress has failed America’s law-abiding businesses by leaving the E-Verify program hanging by a thread.

The E-Verify program allows employers to make sure they have a lawful workforce. Within days of hiring someone and before investing time and money in training the new worker, this program enables employers to know the person is eligible to work in this country.

The next Congress (in which the Democratic majorities may be larger than in the 110th), backed by a Democratic administration, may kill the program. That would be tantamount to juicing up the “jobs magnet“ that draws illegal aliens into America.

The House overwhelmingly passed H.R. 6633, which would have reauthorized the E-Verify program for five years, by 407-2. But Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) has blocked this bill from coming up in the Senate.

The massive continuing resolution, which funds the federal government until March 5, 2009, extends the E-Verify program for five months. The next Congress will have to deal with the program’s life beyond that date.

Most people acknowledge the need to shut down the “jobs magnet.” The 1986 amnesty law created employer sanctions, including the requirement that every new hire complete an I-9 form and show certain IDs.

The I-9 approach fell short. Fake IDs proliferated. Employers can’t question someone’s documents without facing lawsuits, even by the Justice Department, for being conscientious. The government rarely inspects I-9s in personnel files. The “jobs magnet” pulls strongly.

The landmark 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act began to close the loophole. Then known as “Basic Pilot,” this system began as a pilot project in the five states with the most illegal aliens.

As the program proved effective and improved accuracy, Congress made the voluntary system available to employers nationwide. Over a secure Internet connection, participating businesses verify work eligibility, using the information new hires provide on their I-9 form.

Congressmen Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), along with Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) have championed E-Verify and worked for its steady improvement. A decade later, it’s paying off.

The Center for Immigration Studies published a new study documenting E-Verify’s high quality. Titled “If It’s Fixed, Don’t Break It,” the CIS report found a 99.5 percent accuracy rate.

Just one-half of one percent of employees eligible for U.S. work have to take any extra steps. Some 93 percent of queries on E-Verify get confirmation in five seconds or less; 1.2 percent are cleared within 24 hours.

Homeland Security has improved verification for naturalized citizens. CIS found this group no longer needs to go to the Social Security office (a horribly uncooperative partner all along) to clear up discrepancies.

Around 5 percent of new hires don’t get employment confirmation. These are very likely illegal aliens. That matches the 5 percent of the workforce estimated to be illegal aliens.

Advocates for cheap foreign labor such as the Society for Human Resource Management have fought to destroy E-Verify. SHRM has alleged that the program can’t scale up. In fact, it already has successfully done so.

CIS reported that E-Verify had 1,533 businesses participating in 2004. By this September, almost 86,000 employers at more than 446,000 worksites use this free program. Some 1,000 new employers enroll in the program each week.

In fiscal year 2007, E-Verify ran 3.2 million queries. In fiscal 2008, the figure nearly doubled to more than 6.21 million. Honest people are impressed by a government program that scales up that rapidly and maintains 99.5 percent accuracy.

Eleven states, plus federal contractors under President Bush’s executive order, now require certain employer use of E-Verify.

In short, E-Verify has done more than anything else to demagnify the “jobs magnet.”

Sen. Menendez has held E-Verify reauthorization hostage to a demand for so-called visa “recapture.” Menendez contends that permanent visas, some 550,000 by the State Department’s count, have gone unused since 1991.

Earth to Congress: There are no unused visas! They don’t exist! There is no such thing!

Here’s why. Under current law, any family-sponsored visas not used in any given year go the very next year into employment-sponsored visa categories or vice versa — family-based going toward employment-based.

Menendez would add hundreds of thousands of nonexistent visas to employment-based categories. In fact, employment-based visas have exceeded the annual category cap of 140,000 every year since 1999. In six of the past seven years, employment-based admissions exceeded 155,000. In FY 2005, this category gave out 246,878 visas!

Legitimate employers need the certainty that E-Verify gives and its chipping away at the “jobs magnet.” Nevertheless, the price tag of any additional visas is way too high.