The majority of persons who enter the U.S. illegally or
unlawfully overstay temporary visas do so for purposes of
employment. Employment of such individuals has been illegal since
1986, although that law has never been seriously enforced. If
access to employment were curtailed in accord with that law, many
(probably even a large majority) of current illegal immigrants
would leave the country voluntarily, and the number of future
illegal entrants would be greatly reduced.
Since employment is the magnet that draws illegal
immigrants into the U.S., it follows that the best way to reduce
illegal immigration is to shrink the employment magnet. To
accomplish this without rounding up and deporting thousands of
illegal workers only to have them return and obtain another readily
available job, policy should focus on the businesses that hire
illegal immigrants and let general employment rules rather than
individual arrests drive the reduction in illegal immigration.
The policy should be based on the principles of
empowerment, deterrence,and information. The
policy should empower honest employers by giving them the
tools to determine quickly and accurately whether a prospective
employee is an authorized worker. It should hold employers free
from penalty if they inadvertently hire an illegal worker after
following the prescribed procedures.
Further, the policy should empower honest employers by freeing
them from the burden of competing with dishonest businesses
that deliberately hire illegal workers. This means that it must
deter dishonest employers who willfully employ unverified and
unlawful workers by imposing substantial penalties on the employers
when such hiring occurs. For deterrence to work, however, both the
government and employers must have timely and accurate information
regarding job applicants.
The most promising solution to this problem is E-Verify. A
real-time, Web-based verification system run by the Department of
Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration, E-Verify
can determine with great accuracy the authenticity of the personal
information and credentials offered by new hires. In most cases,
verification occurs almost instantly.
To achieve sound verification and enforcement policy to reduce
unlawful employment, and thereby illegal immigration, Congress
- Require universal employment verification to ensure
compliance with the existing prohibition on hiring unauthorized
workers and thereby deter future waves of illegal immigration. To
accomplish this, government should move toward requiring all
employers to use E-Verify to confirm the employment eligibility of
all new hires and current employees.
- Reauthorize E-Verify and provide adequate funding for
implementation. Without action by Congress, E-Verify will
expire at the end of March 2009. Given the great promise shown by
the program, allowing it to expire would be a waste of
taxpayers' investment and a body blow to federal efforts to stem
the tide of illegal immigration.
- Increase opportunities to improve E-Verify's data and
accuracy and reduce errors. Congress should take steps to
improve the quality of data in the databases on which E-Verify
relies and give individuals the opportunity to review the accuracy
of their records independently of the employment-verification
- Penalize employers who continue to employ workers who have
failed verification. This simple step will give E-Verify teeth
as an effective enforcement tool.
- Increase penalties for unlawful hiring. To deter the
employment of unauthorized workers, employers must face real
penalties for violating the law. This requires increasing the
probability that those who violate the law will be punished and
making penalties commensurate with the fruits to employers of
- Facilitate information sharing between DHS and SSA.
Social Security "mismatch" data are a ready source of leads for
workplace enforcement of immigration laws but cannot currently be
shared with DHS. Congress should state clearly that current law
allows sharing of this information for enforcement
- Require SSA and DHS to issue Social Security mismatch
letters to employers. Despite an injunction currently in place,
existing law allows mismatch letters to be the basis of immigration
enforcement actions. Congress should clarify that it approves this
use and require SSA and DHS to undertake it.
- Do not restrict state efforts to limit the employment of
illegal aliens. State governments such as Arizona's are
leading the national effort to limit the employment of unauthorized
workers. Federal legislation should not impede these efforts.
- Establish supplemental procedures to prevent employment
by means of identity fraud. E-Verify alone, as currently
implemented, cannot identify cases where unauthorized workers
steal the identity of a citizen to qualify for work, but slight
changes in the program could correct this shortcoming and give
legal workers another tool to uncover and fight identity
- Incorporate the current new-hire data collection for
child support into E-Verify. The current system for
collecting new-hire data to enforce child support obligations is
outmoded. Substantial cost savings and gains in efficiency and
speed would be had by using E-Verify for this purpose. This would
also save time and money for employers.
It is time for Congress to keep its promises and achieve the
goal it set 20 years ago. Our political leaders cannot hide behind
the "it needs further improvement" mantra forever, because doing so
is the functional equivalent of not enforcing the prohibition
against hiring illegals in the first place.
E-Verify is the most promising, effective, and useful employment
verification tool in use today. Congress should reauthorize
E-Verify as it currently exists and work to expand its reach and
efficacy significantly in recognition of the fact that the law
prohibits employers from hiring illegal immigrants and that
the objective of E-Verify is to enforce that law.
Robert Rector is Senior
Research Fellow in Domestic Policy Studies at The Heritage