The debate over the controversial E-Verify program, which requires all employers in the United States to verify the legal work status of their employees prior to being hired, is having yet another peculiar chapter of its tumultuous history being written by current immigration reform legislation spearheaded by the U.S. Senate’s “Gang of Eight.”
Republicans and conservative Democrats in both chambers of Congress, including “Gang of Eight” members Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), have stated that the inclusion of the E-Verify system is a non-negotiable facet to any proposed immigration reform legislation, yet the current bill endorsed by both senators does more harm to the program than benefit. As the bill begins to take shape and gain momentum, the E-verify program may become a focal point around which the legislation’s success or failure may be determined.
While the E-Verify program’s key constituency of support encompasses Republicans and conservative Democrats, many, even in this group, have come under fire for their wavering stance on this issue and their refusal to wholeheartedly support this conservative linchpin. The most prominent member of this group has been House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who initially drew criticism from external groups supporting the E-Verify program, and abruptly changed his stance following the broadcast of a series of damaging commercials attacking the Speaker’s stance.
Support for the program predominantly comes from the smallest businesses, or those with fewer than ten employees, 59% of who say an employment verification system should be implemented in the United States. These small businesses are joined by the Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association, the Associated Contractors of America, and fifteen other organizations who publicly endorsed H.R. 2885, legislation that would have made E-Verify the law of the land, but which died in committee during the last Congress in 2011.
Detractors, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and forty-seven other organizations that represent a broad coalition of businesses and citizens outlined their opposition to the program in a letter to Congress. This letter claimed that the mandatory institution of the program would be both expensive for businesses to implement and discriminatory toward seasonal workers and legal migrant workers who may not be registered in the system due to the transient nature of their work. Their claims were substantiated by a Government Accountability Office report that stated that full implementation of the program, would cost roughly $281 million and would require the addition of nearly 700 more federal workers. Such acts of federal expansion are often opposed by the very constituency that most eagerly supports the E-Verify program, thus causing a conundrum even amongst the programs most zealous supporters.
The program’s future is further hindered by claims that the “Gang of Eight’s” immigration reform bill creates an enforcement gap for several years before the full implementation of a modified E-Verify program can be adopted, a claim which has been resoundingly denied by Rubio.
While the E-Verify program remains a cornerstone of current immigration reform legislation, its overall makeup and effectiveness in the final draft of the bill will continue to make ideologues on both sides of the issue wary.