By Gautham Nagesh - 09/13/11 08:30 PM EDT
The House Judiciary Committee will mark up a bill from Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) on Thursday morning that would require all U.S. employers to use E-Verify, the Department of Homeland Security system that checks whether new hires are eligible to work in the United States.
Smith called on President Obama to make E-Verify part of his jobs plan on Monday, arguing the law could open up millions of jobs for legal residents as the unemployment remains above 9 percent. The program checks candidates' Social Security numbers against a federal database to verify they are allowed to work in the U.S.
"Nearly 14 million Americans can’t find work but at the same time seven million illegal immigrants work in the U.S. Congress should pass the Legal Workforce Act and the President should sign it into law — unemployed Americans can’t wait any longer.”
Federal contractors are already required to use E-Verify, which Smith characterized as a simple, straightforward way to ensure employers aren't hiring illegal aliens for open jobs in an op-ed published Tuesday in The Hill.
"The 'E' in E-Verify could just as well stand for 'easy' and 'effective.' It takes only one to two minutes to use per new hire and immediately confirms 99.5 percent of work-eligible employees," Smith said.
"Even though E-Verify is not mandatory, many businesses voluntarily use the program. Nearly 290,000 American employers use E-Verify and an average of 1,300 new businesses sign up each week," he said.
While Smith noted that the vast majority — 99.5 percent — of individuals are immediately confirmed as eligible to work, the remaining half-percent remain a major concern for groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union that oppose making E-Verify mandatory. While a portion of those cases are ineligible workers, DHS has also previously acknowledged that some workers are erroneously rejected initially and must petition to have their status reviewed. Critics argue those workers are essentially barred from working through no fault of their own, until DHS corrects the error.
But the program has a long list of supporters, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association and the National Association of Home Builders. The bill has met stiff resistance from agricultural producers, who rely heavily on illegal labor to harvest fruits and vegetables.