It’s time to enforce immigration laws and build on the success of E-Verify

The problem of illegal workers in the U.S. workforce is nothing new. But it is troubling that so little is being done by the administration to make sure that scarce jobs go to legal workers.

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Over 26 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed. Meanwhile, an estimated seven million illegal immigrants remain in the U.S. workforce. U.S. citizens and legal immigrants should not have to compete with illegal immigrants for scarce jobs.

Making sure that employers hire legal workers, and that the administration enforces all immigration laws, is a priority of the House Judiciary Committee.

One of our first steps has been to examine the Obama administration’s record on worksite enforcement. Overall, worksite enforcement under the Obama administration is down more than 70 percent. That means it is easy for illegal immigrants to keep jobs that rightly belong to U.S. citizens.

The administration’s lack of enforcement is essentially a worksite endorsement of illegal immigrants taking jobs from legal workers. Rather than arresting illegal workers, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel let them walk down the street to the next employer. And instead of pursuing criminal charges against businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants, ICE is simply slapping them with a fine. Businesses view these meager penalties as a cost of doing business. They seldom change their hiring practices.

Without worksite enforcement, we can’t stop employers from hiring illegal workers. And if we don’t stop employers from hiring illegal workers, we can’t free up jobs for American workers.

Critics of worksite enforcement claim that illegal immigrants hold jobs that Americans won’t do. But even in the agriculture industry, where pro-amnesty supporters insist we need illegal workers, 50 percent of the agriculture jobs are held by U.S. citizens and legal immigrants.

Statements that Americans are not willing to do these jobs not only are false but also demean the hard-working Americans who do the work.

The House Judiciary Committee is planning to hold a hearing next month to build on the successes of the E-Verify program. This remarkably effective tool preserves jobs for U.S. citizens and legal immigrants by helping employers determine who is a legal worker.

Under E-Verify, the Social Security numbers and alien identification numbers of new hires are checked against Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security records in order to weed out fraudulent numbers and guarantee that new hires are genuinely eligible to work. The program quickly confirms 99.5 percent of work-eligible employees.

More than 225,000 employers use E-Verify, and an average of 1,300 new businesses sign up each week.

Participating employers are happy with E-Verify. Several outside evaluations have found that the vast majority of employers participating in E-Verify believe it to be an effective and reliable tool for checking the legal status of their employees.

When the National Federation for Independent Business polled its members, 76 percent said it would be a minimal or no burden if “there was one telephone number and/or a single Internet website where you could check a new employee’s eligibility to work, something like a merchant’s capacity to check the validity of a credit card.”

The reliability of E-Verify is continuing to be enhanced as well. Last November, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced new security features for E-Verify. Passport and passport card photos are being added to the E-Verify database so that the employer will be able to see the picture of the person who obtained a passport with a certain Social Security number to determine if that is a match with a potential employee. We should continue to add photo-matching capabilities to the E-Verify program.

While this week’s GAO report acknowledged some areas for refinement, such as guarding against identify theft, the report reaffirmed what we already know about E-Verify: it is a very successful program.

As millions of citizens and legal workers are out pounding the pavement looking for work, it is crucial that we promote policies that help our economy and increase job opportunities for Americans and legal immigrants. This includes fully enforcing all of our nation’s immigration laws and building upon the successes of the E-Verify program.

Rep. Smith is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.