Cooking up Thanksgiving-style metaphors, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano stated yesterday that "E-Verify is at the centerpiece of our efforts to maintain a legal workforce both for large and small businesses." She quickly added that "employers need to be held accountable for maintaining a legal workforce” and “our commitment to this approach is growing." It seems that E-Verify has made its way onto the menu for immigration fixings, so much so it holds a prominent position in the center of the immigration reform table.
Placing E-Verify within the context of comprehensive immigration reform, such reform "must address the 'demand' side of the illegal immigration ledger. There are two ways to hold employers accountable: (1) upon knowing violation of the law; and (2) by encouraging maintenance of a legal workforce," Napolitano said. What she also made clear, however, is that the "supply" side of the immigration reform issue – the illegal aliens working at American jobs – would be feasting at the table waiting for amnesty while employers would continue to bear the full brunt of the administration's enforcement initiative.
With all the focus on employers (some of whom clearly do deserve punishment), Napolitano is simply squeezing illegal aliens from one job (where ICE has done an audit of personnel records) to the next job that still hires illegals. She is not arresting them – her worksite enforcement audits and her own rhetoric have made that clear. Nor is she deporting them – her re-introduction of "catch and release" has made that clear as well.
What this looks like, instead, is that the administration is putting a lot of stock – and a lot of pressure – on E-Verify to be the panacea to most of our illegal workforce woes. Napolitano may be betting that E-Verify will become less important once she legalizes the illegal population. Once that amnesty happens, E-Verify will become a rubber stamp for most workers. It is hard to think Napolitano hasn't considered this a positive outcome.
Napolitano made these statements yesterday at a Washington, D.C., closed-door conference on E-Verify. The meeting was geared towards high-profile employers seeking to comply with immigration laws and policy-makers. She also announced a new initiative, "I E-Verify," meant to encourage consumers to buy from employers who use E-Verify and seek to maintain a legal workforce. "I E-Verify" will identify publicly those companies that have signed and are actively using E-Verify for employment authorization of new hires. Whether the employers in the room were comfortable that their use of E-Verify would be public (which the Secretary strongly implied would be the case) did not come up during the meeting. Most employers spent the Q&A periods seeking answers to technical details on the operational use of E-Verify and legal requirements placed upon them by the program.
Introducing Napolitano was the new Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) John Morton, who subtly mocked the idea of enforcement by saying ICE will investigate and prosecute employers who are "knowing violators" but that ICE's goal is to be able to move away from enforcement toward a culture of compliance. He stated that enforcement actions against employers have risen in 2009 over 2008, with over 1,300 audits so far this year; $24 million in fines; and 100 employers barred from doing business with the federal government. Only one was barred last year, but then again the Executive Order requiring federal contractors to use E-Verify was held up by this administration until September 8, 2009.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas indicated that 2,000 employers are now signing up with E-Verify per week. There are currently 170,000 employers and 9,000 federal contractors using the program, and another 18,000 federal contractors enrolled. The program is returning 96.6 percent of queries as work authorized and 2.8 percent as ineligible. (This number is low compared to the illegal work force in the U.S., which is about 4 percent, possibly indicating some ongoing issues with identity theft in the program.)
Coming improvements to the system include automated reminders regarding the expiration of foreign-born employees' work authorization and the ability of employees to self-check their data and status in the E-verify system. Also in the works are efforts to monitor and stop multiple uses of Social Security numbers and assuring that employers are not using E-Verify to discriminate against new hires.
Kudos go to the administration for finally recognizing the huge value that E-Verify provides in better assuring an authorized work force, especially during hard economic times. And kudos as well for a stronger clampdown on bad-actor employers. However, there is no excuse for unevenly applying the law only to employers while permitting illegal aliens to walk. These aliens are often knowingly committing identity theft while taking sparse jobs in American companies, and they will simply leave the one job where ICE conducted an audit and go find one yet to be approached, each time likely committing another act of identity theft to get that job that an unemployed American supposedly would not do. All because this administration is committed to providing them amnesty.