Immigrants as scapegoats

By Jun Medina

Republicans in Congress have proposed legislation to make it mandatory for U.S. employers to electronically verify workers’ legal status as a means of discouraging illegal immigration and preserving jobs for Americans.

This sounds like a sensible initiative on Capitol Hill, but it bears closer scrutiny to determine if it would achieve its avowed goals and work for public good in the real world.

As envisaged by proponents of the bill filed in mid-July by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and 11 other Republicans, the so-called E-Verify bill require employers to use a Homeland Security Department electronic data base to check the immigration status of newly-hired workers. The proponents think the measure has a good chance of passing the GOP-controlled House.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and nine other fellow Republicans have introduced a companion bill, but the fate of the measure passing is probably less certain in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

According to supporters of E-Verify, the system — which is already mandatory in such states as Arizona, Alabama and Georgia — is simple, convenient and free.

Numbers USA, an organization that espouses cutting back present levels of immigration, explains that the use of E-Verify is the smart thing to do for any employer now, even while the bill is pending. “An employer who uses the pilot in good faith cannot be held liable for hiring an illegal alien — use of the system is an affirmative defense — or for discrimination because he never has to ask the hire for more or different documents since the computer does all of the checking,” the group explains.

Moreover, mandatory use of E-Verify (formerly Basic Pilot Program) ensures that all U.S. businesses operate on a level playing field, according to Numbers USA. Now that participation to the program is voluntary, the group says employers who want to obey the law will sign up to use the program while employers who wants to hire illegal aliens, or do not care if he hires illegal aliens at all, will not sign up.

Bill proponent Congressman Smith thinks that with the current 9 percent unemployment rate, jobs should be preserved for some seven million Americans who are jobless instead of these jobs going to undocumented immigrants. All it takes, he says in his website, is just a few minutes to “easily confirm 99.5 percent of work-eligible employees.”

But critics of the bill argue that E-Verify is good only on paper and that its full implementation would do more harm than good to Americans — unless it becomes part of a broader, comprehensive measure to address the broken immigration system.

According to those opposed to the bill, the E-Verify system is imperfect and the accuracy cited by Smith could be misleading because it refers only to verification of workers with legitimate documents. For instance, the system fails to verify undocumented workers half of the time because many of them use valid documents belonging to other people.

Moreover, the system tends to flag people with common names — Hispanics and even Filipinos — such as Cruz, Santos and Perez because of identity confusion or even inconsistencies in the U.S documents.

According to pro-immigration advocacy group National Immigration Forum, naturalized U.S. citizens are 32 times more likely to be erroneously flagged by the system compared to U.S.-born citizens, resulting to grave injustice.

On the pragmatic side, full implementation of E-Verify could hurt agricultural companies in many states which now rely on immigrant laborers from Mexico and Spanish-speaking countries simply because more and more Americans are willing to take the back-breaking farm jobs at minimum wage. In fact, the large availability of these undocumented laborers willing to work the farms is crucial to U.S. food security and allows Americans to take better paying jobs in industries and the services sector which, in turn, allows the US economy to better compete globally.

E-Verify is a useful tool, but taken in isolation and without the necessary components of a workable and humane immigration policy, it would only push millions of people further into the shadows. It could also cause thousands of legal residents, including ethnic Filipinos, to lose their jobs because of documentation mistakes.

America is a nation of immigrants. From the arrival of the early pilgrims to America’s steady rise into the world’s biggest economy and most powerful nation, immigrants have always played a central role in U.S. growth and development. And it’s quite ironic that in the heat of the debate on how best to fix the nation’s immigration system, the millions of undocumented immigrants — who pay billions of taxes and contributions to the Social Security Administration without commensurate benefits and who help many industries humming with activity — are being made the scapegoats of current U.S. economic problems.

 

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