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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 05/17/2013

Opinion: On its own, E-Verify places too heavy a burden on small businesses

The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday held hearings on immigration reform proposals. But instead of taking up a comprehensive package like the Senate, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) have floated a stand-alone bill that would make the E-Verify electronic employment verification system mandatory for all employers.


The House and Senate are pursuing two different paths to mandating E-Verify. (JONATHAN ERNST - REUTERS)
The E-Verify program is an online program run by the government that uses a federal database to check the work eligibility of prospective job candidates. A targeted legislative proposal to require all employers to use this program would come at a serious cost to small business owners, particularly if not packaged with broader immigration reform.

Bloomberg Government estimated in 2010 that making E-Verify checks mandatory would cost employers $2.7 billion to comply, with the vast majority of those costs falling on small businesses.

Meanwhile, even if the program’s error rates are held at current levels, an estimated 156,000 authorized workers would be threatened with job loss by system errors. If error rates rise with the expansion of the program, this problem will be magnified, costing time and money for workers and business owners to fix mistakes, and taking their focus away from building businesses, serving customers, and creating jobs.

These problems will be compounded for authorized immigrant workers and business sectors that have a disproportionate share of immigrant workers, like food service and landscaping.

In 2009, naturalized citizens and other authorized foreign-born workers were 26 times more likely to get a system error from E-Verify than U.S.-born workers. Making this flawed system mandatory would multiply the discriminatory impacts on authorized immigrant workers and threaten serious disruptions for businesses that employ them.

More broadly, stand-alone E-Verify is simply out of touch with economic reality. Without broad reforms to modernize our immigration laws and help the 11 million aspiring Americans who live here now but in the shadows, mandatory E-Verify won’t fix our immigration problems; it will only drive more economic activity underground. The Congressional Budget Office estimates this could cut tax revenues by $17 billion over 10 years – not good for the country’s bottom line.

Many agree that our immigration system is broken, and it’s hurting our economy and the country. We need a real, comprehensive solution, and the means reforms that boost our economy, not ones that undermine it.

Stand-alone E-Verify fails that test. A series of amendments to the Senate ”Gang of Eight” legislation, where employment verification is being considered as part of a comprehensive immigration package, offers a better approach.

Two improvements proposed by Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota – one to establish an office to assist small firms with complying with E-Verify and fixing errors, the other creating incentives for the Department of Homeland Security to increase the accuracy of E-Verify – were passed by voice vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s mark-up yesterday.

Still, more work is needed to limit unintended consequences of the program for small businesses. A bipartisan group of senators – Sens. Franken, Lee (R-Utah), and Hirono (D-Hawaii) – have worked together on another small business amendment, this one requiring that E-Verify error rates be held at or below current levels, and delaying mandatory participation for small businesses if they are not.

That is a common sense amendment that will strengthen accountability, increase system accuracy, and ensure stronger protections for small businesses against unintended consequences. It’s an amendment Senators from both parties should be able to get behind.

David Borris is the owner of Hel’s Kitchen Catering in Northbrook, Illinois; Cristina McNeil is the owner of Office Web International in Boise, Idaho; ReShonda Young is corporate VP of Alpha Express, Inc. in Waterloo, Iowa. All three are part of the Main Street Alliance, a small business group that helped connect the trio for the column.

By David Borris, Cristina McNeil and ReShonda Young  |  10:00 AM ET, 05/17/2013

Tags:  small business, immigration, business, e-verify, politics, congress, gang of eight

 
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