June 7, 2007 | Commentary on
Bill from Wonderland: The employment-verification system won?t work.
The amnesty provisions of the Senate immigration-reform bill
have torched a firestorm of controversy. Overlooked amid all the
sturm und drang is the chilling fact that the
proposal's worksite-enforcement provisions would tremendously
expand federal intrusion into the labor market.
Title III of the bill would insert the feds into hiring
decisions made by every U.S. employer in ways that would touch each
and every U.S. worker. And it does so in the most punitive,
ham-fisted, bureaucratic ways possible. For example, Title III:
- Requires all employers re-verify all their workers, not just
new hires, using the flawed Employment Eligibility Verification
System (EEVS) regardless of the system's security and accuracy and
regardless of the cost (which is likely to be well beyond the means
of many small businesses (Sec. 302(d)(2)(D));
- Makes employers liable if their contractors or subcontractors
have illegal workers on their payrolls (Sec. 302(a)(3));
- Saddles employers with vastly increased record-keeping
requirements (Sec. 302(c));
- Lets the IRS share detailed taxpayer information with private
contractors of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), breeching
a long-standing privacy-protection barrier (Sec.
- Allows DHS to require private businesses to fingerprint all job
- Creates a new IRS unit to investigate employers suspected of
hiring undocumented workers.
Together, these provisions constitute a bureaucratic nightmare for
law-abiding Americans. Even as the bill grants amnesty to 12
million illegal immigrants, it requires all legitimate workers -
both native born and foreign - to prove that they have a legal
right to work.
Proving that you're legit is no "gimme." It's not enough to show
your boss your birth certificate or passport. Any proof you offer
your boss will have to be "confirmed" by DHS.
And there's no "grandfather clause" in play. If you want to
continue working in your current job, you'll need to get the DHS
seal of approval, or it's hasta la vista for you.
Employers who want to contract with other businesses such as
cleaning, landscaping, or construction companies may also be
required to go through DHS to "obtain confirmation from the
Secretary that the contractor or subcontractor has registered with
the Employment Eligibility Verification System (EEVS) and is
utilizing [it] to verify its employees" (Sec. 302(a)(3)(B)).
And just how good is EEVS? A 2002 independent study by the
Institute for Survey Research and Westat raises serious concerns
about the accuracy of this type of system. The Government
Accountability Office (GAO) confirmed these problems in a June 2005
report to Congress. The GAO report added that the system "may not
be able to complete timely verifications if the number of employers
using the program significantly increased."
In 2004 when only 2,300 employers were enrolled in the system, 15
percent of the applications required secondary verifications -
taking up to two weeks - before they could be confirmed as eligible
to work. According to the GAO, even a small increase in the number
of employers participating would slow the verification process
What are the chances that EEVS can be whipped into shape in before
the deadlines established by the bill? Slim to none, according to
the experts. According to DHS, only about 16,000 employers are
currently using the system. This is only a small fraction of the 6
million or more U.S. employers that would need to be enrolled. To
be used by all employers, DHS would have to enroll 20,000 or more
new employers a day, every day, for 18 months. This is more each
month than the total number enrolled in the 10-year history of the
Then the feds would have to verify the legal status of every
employee at each of those firms within a year and a half - at the
very same time they are supposed to be reviewing and running
comprehensive background checks on 12 million illegal immigrants
seeking the new "Z" work visa.
This bill could put one in eight U.S. workers are in EEVS limbo,
being neither authorized nor unauthorized, Few are actually
illegal, but since the system can't confirm their legality,
companies would have no choice but to let these workers go, forcing
millions of citizens and legal immigrants out of work.
The requirement to verify all
workers, not just
new hires, is patently unworkable, Once it creates sufficient havoc
in the workplace, it will be repealed.
If the bill's authors were seriously interested in cracking down
on businesses who hire illegal immigrants, it would focus on the
relatively few sectors of the economy where this practice is
Very few software engineers work in America illegally. Better to
concentrate the enforcement effort on sectors such as agriculture
and construction where employment of illegals is rampant.
And why not require businesses to post surety bonds stating they
are not hiring illegal immigrants? That would prove a far more
efficient workforce-verification measure than giving the federal
bureaucracy control over every American worker's employment.
As it stands now, the Senate immigration bill turns common sense
on its head. It legalizes illegal workers immediately while calling
into question all legitimate workers' rights to hold their jobs. If
Lewis Carroll's Alice were to search for a Wonderland version of
immigration reform, this would be her bill.
Dyck is director of personnel at The
First appeared in the National Review Online