E-Verify, Employers & Employment, Legislation, Undocumented Workers

Opinion: Battle over E-Verify is Prelude to Immigration Reform

From SignonSanDiego.com, Logan Jenkins, 3 Jul 2011.

What’s the fundamental difference between a liberal and a conservative?

No, it’s not a setup for a snarky joke.

Here’s one serious answer I heard recently:

A government welfare program does a lot of good for poor families. No one disputes its beneficial effects. It’s been proven, however, that about 20 percent of the recipients are ripping off the system, receiving checks they don’t deserve.

The liberal says, “It’s too bad there’s so much fraud — we should work on reducing it — but the program should stay alive because 80 percent of the taxpayer dollars are making life worthwhile for disadvantaged parents and children. Let’s not let the perfect get in the way of the good.”

The conservative, on the other pole, focuses his outrage on the fraud and says, “This percentage of waste is intolerable. Not one penny of mine is going to support deadbeats. If the program can’t be cleaned up, it should be killed. If it’s broke, don’t even try to fix it.”

When the liberal/conservative litmus test turns to illegal immigration, however, the tables get turned in an interesting way.

The liberal demands perfection in the administration of immigration law. No human being’s rights can be violated while trying to defend the sovereignty of the nation.

The conservative? Until perfection can be achieved, good is good enough. It’s too bad if a percentage of workers are hassled by scrutiny or paperwork. A small price to pay for knowing who’s working illegally.

Consider E-Verify, the 15-year-old free online screening of job applicants, a suddenly hot flash point in the nation’s 25-year-old struggle to figure out how to deal with illegal workers living in the shadows of American fields and factories.

In March, Escondido blazed the first county path to E-Verify, requiring all new city employees and city contractors’ employees to submit to the screening.

Just last week, the Board of Supervisors, composed of five Republicans, caught up with Escondido and signaled its desire to use E-Verify to hire new employees. Supervisor Dianne Jacob gave the action her “better late than never award.”

In Congress, a bill requiring mandatory E-Verify screening for all American businesses, all of which are currently required to conduct paper checks, is being promoted by strong-border conservatives as a generator of an estimated 7 million jobs held by illegal workers.

The liberal reaction to mandated E-Verify? Broadly support the goal but focus on the statistical — and anecdotal — flaws of the Internet-based screening.

When asked at last week’s news conference if he would veto the E-Verify bill if it comes to his desk, President Obama dodged the specific question and, before advocating a comprehensive reform that includes a path to citizenship, said this:

“E-Verify can be an important enforcement tool if it’s not riddled with errors, if U.S. citizens are protected. What I don’t want is a situation in which the employers are forced to set up a system that they can’t be certain works. We don’t want to expose employers to the risk where they end up rejecting a candidate for a job because the list says that person is an illegal immigrant and it turns out that person isn’t. So I think the goal is to continue to see if we can perfect the E-Verify system. Let’s make sure we have safeguards in place.”

This overview has been echoed by the American Civil Rights Union, which opposes mandatory E-Verify screening because it’s assumed a segment of the workforce will be treated unfairly.

Because E-Verify has been demonstrated not to be perfect, the progressive line goes, it’s not good to go as a national policy.

The oddity in that view is that E-Verify is pretty near perfect when identifying potential employees who are, in fact, legally authorized to work.

The system’s weakness is primarily with “false positives,” if you will — unauthorized workers who game the system with stolen identities. Presumably, as more resources are poured into the database, it will be harder to cheat.

The key point is, if you’re a legal worker, you don’t have much to worry about.

In the absence of a national identity card that cannot be forged — the best solution by far — instant background checks make common sense to anyone except those who, for financial or humanitarian or cultural reasons, look favorably upon an illegal work force.

As a politically loaded symbol, E-Verify can be exploited by the left, where it’s demonized as a mean-spirited job killer, and the right, where it’s celebrated as a law-respecting job creator.

It would be funny, grist for the humor mill, if it weren’t such a serious matter.

If E-Verify does become the law of the land, and not isolated to a few mad-as-hell cities, counties and states, one positive outcome should be moderate reform that acknowledges the national need for a young workforce at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Legitimizing this labor force is the crucial acid test for liberals and conservatives alike.

Despite the nation’s jobs crisis, it’s unlikely that armies of laid-off American workers will turn into farm laborers willing to break their backs for low wages.

Even in the Great Recession, those grapes are way too wrathful.

Logan Jenkins »

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Source: SignonSanDiego.com, “Battle over E-Verify is prelude to immigration reform” by Logan Jenkins, 3 Jul 2011.

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