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The program known as E-Verify has made its way lately to the center of the immigration debate, as some lawmakers seek to make the online worker screening tool mandatory for employers nationwide. But the voluntary program once known as "Basic Pilot" has a long and complex history that began years ago.
The Migration Policy Institute has put out an interesting paper on E-Verify basics that covers the ins and outs of the program and its history, which dates back to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and its related loopholes. The law required employers to view workers' documents, easily forged or borrowed, but not verify their authenticity. In time, one solution floated was a voluntary verification program. From the article:
From its voluntary pilot testing and first use in 2004 by very small numbers of employers, E-Verify has expanded significantly. Since 2006, more than 15 US states have implemented some type of E-Verify mandate, either through legislation or executive order, and the Supreme Court recently upheld through Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting the states' right to make participation in E-Verify mandatory for all employers. Additionally, an Executive Order signed by President Bush in 2008 requiring all federal contractors and subcontractors to use E-Verify went into effect in September 2009.
E-Verify has since experienced dramatic growth both in terms of uptake among employers and the number of queries processed, partly as a result of these mandates. As of January 2011, over 243,000 employers had registered to use the system, up from 9,300 in June 2006, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). And overall use of the program increased eight-fold between 2006 and 2010, from 1.7 million to 13.4 million queries, covering about one out of four people hired in the United States in 2010.
Still, with a total of about 7.6 million business establishments in the United States according to 2008 US Census Bureau data, only about 3 percent of all employers have enrolled in the system.
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Proposed legislation called the Legal Workforce Act of 2011 was introduced today in the House of Representatives by Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas. The bill seeks to make mandatory and expand the now-voluntary program known as E-Verify, an online system that allows employers to check employees' legal authorization to work.
The bill follows on the heels of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a similar Arizona state law from 2007, which demands that employers in that state verify workers' status or risk losing their business licenses.
Los Angeles immigration attorney and blogger Angelo Paparelli has posted some of the highlights of what the new federal E-Verify bill entails. Among them:
Criminal Penalties for false I-9 attestations and improper use of E-Verify. Individuals would face criminal penalties of up to two years and fines for knowingly furnishing a social security number or DHS-approved ID or authorization number that does not belong to the person or submitting such a number in an E-Verify screening. Helpfully, however, the LWA waives a good faith first violation of the unlawful hiring rules.
E-Verify Use Only for New Hires. Except for federal vendors who must verify current employees assigned to a covered federal contract, the LWA will only apply to new hires. Also, it will not apply to farm workers returning to a former employer.
No Preemption of AZ-style E-Verify Laws. LWA would permit the proliferation of state laws and local rules mandating E-Verify use as recently blessed by the Supreme Court in U.S. Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting: "A State, locality, municipality, or political subdivision may exercise its authority over business licensing and similar laws as a penalty for failure to use the verification system."
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A new report from the Migration Policy Institute that was funded by the European Union addresses the never-ending quandary over unauthorized workers, as much of an issue in Europe as it is in the United States.
Wherever unauthorized workers are hired, the draw of the underground economy is a leading driver of illegal immigration, the report notes.
These workers are not only cheaper to hire, but are also a boon to employers because they come with "no strings attached," providing employers with greater flexibility that makes running a business easier.
Now for the question that has stumped political leaders for decades: What, if anything, can be done about it? From the report:
First, in order to bring employers who would have otherwise hired illegally into legal hiring, legal systems would have to mimic at least some of the characteristics of illegal migration.
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Yesterday, NPR's All Things Considered examined the looming crisis in the Vidalia onion industry in Georgia, where growers of the prized sweet onions could be left without sufficient workers because of a new anti-illegal immigration law that tightens regulations for hiring labor.
The story didn't mention the political firestorm that ensued more than a dozen years ago, when immigration agents famously targeted Georgia's Vidalia onion growers. That story in the end illustrated how difficult it is for agriculture to subsist without cheap unauthorized labor - and how economics can trump the political will to enforce immigration laws when push comes to shove.