In Arizona, we know what it means to be on the front lines of the illegal immigration crisis. Our border has been ignored for years. The federal government’s failure to do its job has left us with the most porous border in the nation.
Stopping the hiring of undocumented workers is an essential part of the solution, yet Washington has done little. States have been forced to take action.
Arizona became the first state requiring businesses to use E-Verify, the federal program to confirm employees’ legal status. E-Verify has been on the books for over a decade but is used by less than one percent of all U.S. companies. According to Arizona business owners, its effectiveness is questionable.
As a result, our businesses face severe state sanctions if their employees’ identification information does not match data from an unproven federal system. This situation was underscored at a briefing I hosted on Capitol Hill in May. Business leaders from across Arizona agreed that E-Verify was difficult to use, information was often inaccurate and small businesses lacked the resources to participate.
As a former small business owner, I understand the day-to-day challenges of marketing, sales, staffing, and balancing the books. In these tough economic times, verifying the legal status of employees must be as easy and accurate as possible. The last thing we need is to impose additional burdens on the businesses providing jobs and driving our economy. Instead of a patchwork of state immigration employment laws, we need a common sense, federally-mandated program that can operate uniformly in all 50 states. The goal is to make sure our employers do not unknowingly abet the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States by providing them with a place to work.
That is why I worked with Republican Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas to overhaul E-Verify. We wanted to give businesses a fast, reliable way to follow the law. But getting things done in Washington is about building consensus. Once it became apparent Congress was not ready to make sweeping changes to E-Verify, I introduced the Employee Verification Amendment Act. Something needed to be done before Congress adjourned and E-Verify expired in November.
My bill extends E-Verify for five years, mandates impact studies, and adds funding and protections for the Social Security system on which E-Verify relies. The consensus building work paid off on July 31, when – in a strong display of bipartisanship – the House passed my bill with overwhelming support from both Republicans and Democrats. By re-authorizing E-Verify for five years instead of the 10-year period originally proposed, we can move to a federal mandatory system more quickly. This is critical to fixing our broken immigration system.
Developing the best possible mandatory verification system also requires a complete understanding of E-Verify’s pitfalls. The studies included in my legislation will allow Congress to learn from the Arizona employers who are on the frontlines of this issue.
With passage of the Employee Verification Amendment Act, we seized an opportunity to move closer to a reliable federal system to prevent the hiring of undocumented workers. Even more importantly, the House finally mustered the courage to put employee verification laws squarely in the hands of the federal government where they belong.
Much more work remains. Smarter border security, a practical temporary worker program, visa reforms, reimbursements to border communities – all are needed to fix our nation’s immigration problems.
In Arizona, we know what it takes to get the job done. It’s about time Washington got the message.