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If Congress is serious about putting Americans back to work, it should quickly pass the Legal Workforce Act.
The act would make it mandatory for all employers to use E-Verify — an easy-to-use, accurate, computer-based employee verification system that ensures employees have a legal right to work in the United States.
More than 7 million people take American jobs by working illegally in the United States. Under the act, many of those 7 million jobs will be available to American workers when E-Verify is fully implemented in two years.
What other jobs program can guarantee millions of jobs for American workers in two years?
There is a clear need to pass the Legal Workforce Act now.
The U.S. unemployment rate has now hovered at or above 9 percent for the past 24 months, topping 8 percent for the past 29 months, the longest streak since the 1930s.
The economy added only 18,000 private-sector jobs in June. Clearly, we have to do better.
The myth that illegal immigrants only hold jobs that American workers won’t do is just that — a myth. Recent studies estimate that 20 percent of cooks, 25 percent of construction workers, 22 percent of maids and housekeeping personnel, and 25 percent of groundskeepers are illegal immigrants. In addition, 40 percent of illegal immigrants are visa overstays, many of whom take high-end jobs from Americans.
When fast-food company Chipotle was audited and hundreds of its illegal workers were fired, American citizens lined up the next day for a chance to work at those jobs.
Fifteen years ago, I introduced the program that evolved into E-Verify, then called the Basic Pilot Program, which was included in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) and I have been working to make the program mandatory since the Basic Pilot Program became law.
Making E-Verify mandatory will remove the primary factor that entices people to illegally cross our borders or overstay their visas — the ability to take an American job.
When companies such as Chipotle are audited and its illegal workers are fired, the workers will not be able to cross the street and take a job from another American worker at another fast-food establishment.
Mandatory E-Verify will also deter those who enter the United States on a temporary visa but never leave.
E-Verify simply matches a person’s name, Social Security number and birth date against Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security databases. Its accuracy rate is far superior to the I-9 forms that are currently used to check eligibility, it lowers costs for employers and it is race-neutral.
Although the program is currently voluntary, more than 250,000 American employers willingly use E-Verify and an average of 1,300 new businesses sign up each week.
But employers who voluntarily use E-Verify are not the problem. Employers who willingly and knowingly hire illegal immigrants do not use E-Verify. Until we make E-Verify mandatory for all employers — from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to fast-food chains to the deli on the corner — employers will continue to hire illegal immigrants at lower wages and at the expense of American workers.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data from last year show that 98.3 percent of employees were confirmed as work-authorized instantly or within 24 hours using E-Verify. A 2009 report by research firm Westat found that those eligible to work are immediately confirmed 99.5 percent of the time.
E-Verify is free, very accurate and reduces paperwork for American businesses. Making it mandatory through passage of the Legal Workforce Act would discourage illegal immigration and open up millions of jobs for American workers.
The time to make E-Verify mandatory is now.
Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) is chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement.