E-Verify works, so let’s not use it

By John Kass

With billions of your federal tax dollars gushing forth from Washington — as part of President Obama’s stimulus bill to put Americans back to work — wouldn’t it be nice if someone invented a special magic faucet?

A magic faucet to compel those federal contractors doing all the hiring with all that federal money to make certain the jobs go to people who are legally entitled to work in the United States.

Is that kind of magic too much for a beleaguered taxpayer to expect? Actually, the faucet has already been invented.

It’s called E-Verify. And it works.


E-Verify is an Internet-based screening system allowing prospective employers to quickly and cheaply determine a job applicant’s legal status.

Currently a voluntary program, E-Verify combines Social Security identification with other federal databases to determine if the applicant is actually the person asking for the job, and not someone who passed away 50 years ago.

E-Verify has been studied and studied again and again, and works perfectly fine as a purely voluntary program. But making it a federal mandate frightens special interests, so it languishes in legislative purgatory.

The latest delay occurred Wednesday, in a quiet notice sent without fanfare by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to federal contractors. The federal agency said E-Verify wouldn’t be up and running to screen those federal contract jobs until at least Sept. 8.

And it’s a good bet that just before Sept. 8 rolls around, it will be delayed some more.

Last year, former President George W. Bush issued an executive order mandating that E-Verify be used in federal contracts. That was delayed. Later, Congress toyed with including it in Obama’s gazillion-dollar federal jobs stimulus package.

But it was dropped. Why?

"There are powerful lobbies lined up against this, and together they make some of the strangest bedfellows in the world," said Neville Cramer, a former top federal Immigration official who helped develop the earliest incarnation of E-Verify years ago.


"They are deathly afraid of this system being used because it works," Cramer said in a telephone interview.

E-Verify works so well that it’s already been credited with a miracle: bringing Republicans and Democrats together.

Republicans in their party’s corporate wing support businesses that want unfettered access to cheap labor. Democrats in their party’s recruitment wing see a future bright with the votes of Mexican families crossing the border illegally to find jobs and eventually becoming clients of government programs.

But because E-Verify works, politicians figure there’s no real rush to actually use the darn thing. If it didn’t work, they’d demand its implementation, like almost every other government program.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposes a federal mandate for E-Verify. It says its opposition is based on constitutional grounds, not because of immigration. But these things intersect, and in December, the chamber filed a federal lawsuit to stop Bush’s executive order.

"We have some businesses who use it voluntarily, and others who find it to be a pain in the butt," said Randy Johnson, vice president of the Washington-based chamber. "We support the extension of E-Verify as a voluntary pilot program."

Before immigrant groups shriek that I’m some kind of immigrant phobe for supporting E-Verify, think again. As the son of immigrants, I’m genetically prohibited from fearing myself.

But this isn’t about Immigration, as much as it is about American jobs, about making sure that taxpayer money is used properly. Otherwise, we’re participating in a lie, and lies breed cynicism and ugliness, in case you haven’t observed Chicago politics lately. What is required is clarity.


There doesn’t seem to be anything more clear than the expectation that government and business follow the law when our taxes are gushing out of the federal spigot.

"E-Verify is crucial because it gets to the source of the problem," said Cramer, who began his career as a border patrol agent in Eagle Pass, Texas, and who retired in 2002 to consult on Immigration issues. "You can put 50,000 Immigration agents on the borders and you could build a wall around the whole United States, but if there’s a job waiting for them, they’re coming. If you don’t shut off the valve, they’re coming."

Despite all their speeches about fiscal responsibility, our bipartisan politicians in Washington have always found it easy to open the federal money valve.

But when it comes to guaranteeing that your federal jobs stimulus money goes to those who legally deserve it, the politicians seem incapable of turning the valve the other way.

John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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