Government Officials Testify on the Accuracy of E-Verify
Last week, the House Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement convened to hear testimony on the progress of the E-verify work authorization program. The hearing, entitled “E-Verify – Preserving Jobs for American Workers,” featured testimony from Ms. Theresa Bertucci, an associate director at United States Center for Immigration Services (USCIS), and Mr. Richard Stana, director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues at the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Chairman of the Subcommittee, Representative Elton Gallegly (R-CA) began the meeting by noting that there are 14 million unemployed Americans in today’s economy. In order to prevent increasing numbers of illegal aliens from competing for the scarce number of jobs available, he said we must first enforce our current immigration laws and remove the magnet drawing illegal aliens to the United States. Of course, the biggest magnet for illegal aliens is the possibility of jobs. Chairman Gallegly expressed concern that without mandatory use of E-Verify, there are insufficient consequences for companies who hire illegal aliens.
USCIS Associate Director Bertucci then updated members on the E-Verify program. She explained that E-verify is a fast, free, internet-based program which allows employers to electronically verify employee information with Social Security Administration (SSA), Department of State and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) records. The program verifies that an employee is legal status to work in the U.S. Ms. Bertucci stated that even though E-Verify is currently a voluntary program, more than 246,000 employers are enrolled with more than 1,300 employers joining each week. These numbers represent 11 percent of the nation’s employers.
Despite E-Verify’s growing popularity, two influential Democrats voiced concern over the program. Ranking Subcommittee Member Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) stated that the majority of agriculture jobs in America are held by undocumented workers. Congressman Conyers (D-MI), Ranking Member of the full Judiciary Committee, echoed the Lofgren’s sentiments, stating that most illegal aliens are performing jobs that Americans are unwilling to do. Agriculture is the primary industry speaking out about the adverse effects of a mandatory verification system. (National Journal, Feb. 10, 2011)
Representatives Lofgren and Conyers also questioned the error rate of program and expressed fear of potential “false negative” results. False negative results occur when E-verify incorrectly indicates an individual is not authorized to work in the United States. However, director Stana from GAO presented statistics confirming E-verify’s effectiveness. He that that of all the inquiries made through E-verify, 97.4 percent of employees are confirmed automatically as authorized to work. (GAO Testimony before the Subcommittee on Immigration, Policy and Enforcement at 4) Only .3 percent of the employees checked through E-verify receive tentative non-confirmations and then are later found to actually be eligible for employment. (Id.)
Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, spoke out in favor of E-verify. He focused on the importance of the program during a time of economic hardship in America, reminding the Subcommittee that unemployment has remained at over nine percent for 21 months. He noted that over seven million people are working in the United States illegally, while families of American citizens are getting worried over the ongoing scarcity of jobs. (See Pew Hispanic Center, Apr. 14, 2009) Congressman Smith argued that the few jobs which are available should go to legal workers.
Congressman Smith also pointed out that he uses E-verify when hiring his staff, as all members of Congress are required to do. He promoted its use as easy and free. A recent survey of employers reported similar findings among employers who use E-verify. Ms. Bertucci shared testified ony that employers scored E-verify as an 82 out of a possible 100 on an American Customer Satisfaction Index Survey in 2010. The federal government only scored a 69 percent on the same survey. The American Customer Service Index is a survey which uses customer interviews to measure customer satisfaction and predict customer loyalty. (See American Customer Satisfaction Index)
Recent news reports from Capitol Hill reveal that long-time amnesty supporters, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), are reuniting to push “comprehensive” immigration reform in the Senate. (Politico, Feb. 7, 2011) So far the pair has reached out to several organizations in the open-borders lobby including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and numerous evangelical groups. (Id.) Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was one of three Republicans voting in favor of the DREAM Act last session, also confirmed that aides in Sen. Schumer’s office contacted her staff to discuss the issue. (Id.; See Senate Roll Call Vote 278, 111th Congress)
Both Senators Graham and Schumer have indicated that the talks are merely in its opening round and that reigniting their coalition may take some effort in the new Congress. “It’s in the infant stage,” Sen. Graham told Politico. (Politico, Feb. 7, 2011) “I don’t know what the political appetite is to do something.” (Id.) Schumer shares Graham’s sentiment, “What we’re doing is beginning these preliminary talks, particularly with outside groups, to try and regain the consensus that was pretty nicely formed last year.” (Id.) “And who knows, we might surprise everyone and get something done. We realize it is a tough thing to do, but it is very important, and it’s worth a shot.” he said. (Id.)
Graham and Schumer may be hoping to capitalize on the fact that five Senators have already announced they will not seek re-election in 2012—the same number of votes by which the DREAM Act failed in December—and are no longer accountable to their constituents. (Politico, Feb. 7, 2011) For example, at a news conference announcing that he would not seek re-election next cycle, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) called immigration reform “one of the top items on the agenda” and said there may be an opportunity in the next two years “to tackle that in a productive way.” (Arizona Republic, Feb. 11, 2011) Yet, in a subsequent interview Sen. Kyl backtracked, saying that he was not referring to “comprehensive” immigration reform and that going down such a road again would be a “dead-end.” (Id.) Other Senators not seeking re-election in 2012 include Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Jim Webb (D-VA), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT).
Senator Graham and Schumer’s efforts come on the heels of President Obama’s State of the Union Address where he urged members of Congress to “address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows.” (NPR Transcript, Jan. 25, 2011; See alsoFAIR Legislative Update Jan. 31, 2011) But, even with the support of the White House and the Senate, it is doubtful that an amnesty bill by Graham and Schumer would survive in the House this legislative session. Such a bill would likely have to make it out of the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), an ardent supporter of immigration enforcement. At a House Immigration Subcommittee hearing last fall, Smith stated: “Some people say that we need to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants in the U.S., but citizenship is the greatest honor our country can bestow. It shouldn’t be sold to lawbreakers for the price of a fine.” (Hearing Transcript, Sept. 30, 2010) “Amnesty will enable illegal workers to depress wages and take jobs away from American citizens and legal immigrants,” he said.
Last Friday, authorities charged an illegal alien from El Salvador with the murder of three individuals in northern Virginia. (Associated Press, Feb. 11, 2011) The suspect, Jose Oswaldo Reyes Alfaro, was ordered deported 10 years ago but never left the country. (Id.)
Alfaro is charged with killing 37-year-old William Ashcraft and 56-year-old Brenda Ashcraft in a first attack in Manassas, Virginia last Thursday night. (Id.) He is also charged with killing 48-year-old Julio Cesar Ulloa in a second attack later the same evening. (Id.) A 34-year-old woman, 15-year-old girl and 77-year-old woman were also injured, all unidentified. (Id.) The chief of police, Doug Keen, stated that the killings were not gang-related. (Id.)
Over the last few weeks Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have issued “notices of inspection” to Chipotle Mexican Grill, the popular fast-food burrito chain, at about 60 of its restaurants in Virginia and Washington, D.C. (LA Times, Feb. 7, 2011; My Fox DC, Feb. 7, 2011) The “notices of inspection” are warnings to the restaurant-chain that ICE will be conducting Form I-9 audits on its stores in an effort to discover unlawfully employed illegal aliens. (Id.) Form I-9 audits require employers to submit copies of I-9 employment-eligibility forms and other payroll documents to ICE officials for review. (Denver Post, Feb. 9, 2011) If documents are falsified, employers are given a warning, must dismiss the workers involved, and may be fined or face criminal charges in some instances. (Id.; See ICE Fact Sheet: Form I-9 Inspection Overview; Dec. 1, 2009)
The recent audits reflect the Obama Administration’s 2009 announcement that it plans to shift away from worksite enforcement actions (utilized by the Bush Administration) that focus on the illegal actions of both the employers and employees to a more employeroriented worksite enforcement strategy. (Fox News Latino, Feb. 8, 2011; CNN News, Feb. 8, 2011) Rather than taking illegal workers into custody, the current system of I-9 audits penalize companies discovered to have “knowingly” employed an illegal alien in violation of federal law (See INA Sec. 274A). ICE has nearly doubled its audits of employers in the last year to more than 2,700, but experts complain that this new policy is misleading. (Fox News Latino, Feb. 8, 2011) For example, under the Obama Administration’s I-9 audit program, ICE may or may not fine employers who have violated the law and ICE may issue a notice of intent to fine for a certain dollar amount, only to have that fine later reduced. And while employers usually fire the workers who cannot provide documentation that they are authorized to work, ICE does not detain or deport the illegal workers, leaving them free to find work elsewhere.
ICE’s activity in Washington, D.C. and Virginia comes shortly after ICE audited roughly 50 Chipotle restaurants in Minnesota at the end of last year. That audit resulted in the dismissal of hundreds of employees. (Reuters, Feb. 9, 2011) In response, protesters carried signs outside of one of the chain’s Minneapolis restaurants stating, “Chipotle: You cannot sell Mexican food and then sell out Mexican workers.” (Time, Feb. 9, 2011) However, Tanya, a 35-year-old woman who had been working illegally at the chain remarked, “I believe that when you go to apply there, they know beforehand that you don’t have papers.” (The Huffington Post, Feb. 8, 2011) Chipotle now faces a lawsuit from dismissed workers alleging that Chipotle violated Minnesota law by not immediately giving them their earned compensation upon their dismissal. (Fox News Latino, Feb. 9, 2011)
Chipotle spokesman, Chris Arnold, said that Chipotle uses a two-tier system of verifying its workers’ eligibility for employment. (Fox News Latino, Feb. 8, 2011) He explained that in the first step the hiring manager reviews the employment documents and then human resources personnel conduct a review. (Id.) “In spite of those two reviews for every set of documents, we still apparently had a number of people whose documents were not valid,” Arnold commented. (Id.) “On one hand, we must comply with ICE requirements to verify the status of every employee we hire, but we must do that without discriminating and violating the mandate of the Department of Justice,” Arnold said. (Washington Examiner, Feb. 7, 2011) According to Arnold, Chipotle is speaking with ICE about expanding its use of the E-Verify program, citing that it already uses it in states that require it such as Arizona and North Carolina. (Fox News Latino, Feb. 8, 2011)
The Loudon County Sheriff’s Gang Intelligence Unit last week dismantled a document production mill which provided hundreds or even thousands of fraudulent IDs to illegal aliens. (Washington Post, Feb. 4, 2011) Sheriff’s deputies found evidence of at least 500 fraudulent documents in the Sugarland, Virginia facility, including social security cards, driver’s licenses, work visas and permanent resident cards. (Id.)
Law enforcement officials took four Salvadoran nationals into custody, and later charged three with manufacturing fraudulent documents. (Id.) Two of the individuals arrested had been previously deported, and the third man had an expired temporary protected status. (Id.) Police said the trio will likely face additional charges. (Id.)
FAIR’s sources in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were not surprised at the gang connection in this bust. The notorious MS-13 gang has a large percentage of Salvadoran members and is reputed to produce fraudulent and altered documents for use by illegal aliens.
Robert Ford (D-Charleston), a black state Senator in South Carolina, argued last week against stricter immigration laws in his state saying that firmer laws would hurt South Carolina’s economy because blacks and whites do not work as hard as Mexicans. (The Washington Post, Feb. 8, 2011) The comments came during a state Senate Judiciary Committee hearing held last week on an Arizona-style bill making its way through the South Carolina legislature. (Post and Courier, Feb. 8, 2011) According to an audio recording of the hearing Ford said, “I know brothers, and when I’m talking about brothers I’m talking . . . about black guys and they’re not going to do that work at Boeing with all that dirt and stuff to be hauled to build that plant. Ain’t no brothers gonna do that. Not like a Mexican will.” (WCBD Charleston, Feb. 10, 2011) He followed these comments with additional disparaging remarks: “Now you know my blue-eyed brothers, pale-skinned brothers ain’t gonna do no work. They ain’t gonna do that kind of work . . . Ever since this country was built, somebody came in and did the work for us. That’s America. It’s a country of immigrants.” (Id.)
Executive Director of the state GOP, Joel Sawyer, demanded Senator Ford apologize, “It's abhorrent and incredibly offensive that any elected official would make comments this racist.” (The Washington Post, Feb. 8, 2011) Lonnie Randolph of the South Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) also found Ford’s comments offensive, saying, “All human beings that I know of share both positive and negative traits . . . All individuals share the same shortcomings.” (Id.) Senator Ford showed no intent of retracting his statements, saying of his critics, “They're taking life too serious. My advice is for them to get a life and to learn American history.” (Id.)