Op-Ed: Fix Immigration, but Not with E-Verify (Crain's Business)
By Javier H. Valdés and Donna Lieberman
Our nation's lawmakers, led by New York Sen. Charles Schumer and the “Gang of Eight,” are moving toward comprehensive reform to fix our broken immigration system. It's about time. Comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, is critical: It promises to keep families together and bring hardworking immigrants out of the shadows and enable them to contribute fully to our nation's economy.
But as we approach a grand bargain, Congress should resist senseless proposals that impose new burdens. While some compromise is inevitable, we are deeply concerned about the proposed mandatory E-Verify program, which would impose onerous burdens on businesses and their employees—citizens and noncitizens alike.
E-Verify would force all employers to submit every employee's records to be checked against an error-prone federal immigration database to determine work eligibility. Essentially, it would force businesses to get government permission before offering someone a job. This grave mistake would hurt businesses and minority groups and undermine every American's privacy by gathering an enormous list of the entire population's personal data, which could be used for other purposes and be vulnerable to hackers and identify thieves.
E-Verify might seem innocuous, but imposing it would be costly and dangerous. Consider Esmeralda Valencia, an immigrant entrepreneur who owns Esmeralda's Restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn. She has 10 employees, mostly immigrants. Esmeralda's creates local jobs, but E-Verify could get in the way by introducing a costly layer of bureaucracy into the hiring process.
According to Bloomberg Government, implementing E-Verify would cost our nation's 6 million small businesses $2.6 billion per year. Businesses like Esmeralda's simply do not have extra time and money to spare. Moreover, E-Verify would be even more damaging to job creation for small businesses, since its errors disproportionately affect naturalized citizens, immigrants and Latinos, among other minority groups. Jobs would go unfilled and unoffered, as the costs of hiring would increase.
And while Ms. Valencia wants to hire the best candidates, certain unscrupulous business owners might use E-Verify as an excuse to not hire immigrant job-seekers by saying they don't want the hassle of dealing with errors in the system.
The system's error rate means that, according to the Government Accountability Office, 1.2 million Americans could be prevented from working and providing for their families until they gather documents and slog through bureaucracy to fix the mistake. This would create an administrative nightmare for the government, businesses and workers. Technical glitches would delay hiring and cost people jobs simply because a government database thinks they're a different José Cruz or John Smith.
Congress should think twice before imposing this costly, error-ridden program as part of comprehensive immigration reform. There are simpler ways to solve this problem. For instance, enhancing anti-document-fraud technology is less expensive and intrusive than mandating the E-Verify regime.
We need an immigration overhaul. But we don't need compulsory E-Verify. For small business owners, for immigrants and for all Americans, it's simply the wrong choice.
Javier H. Valdés is co-executive director of Make the Road New York, an immigrants' rights organization. Donna Lieberman is executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.