September 14, 2011 - The ACLU of Oregon along with a group of business, immigrant, labor, faith, and civil rights leaders stood together with others from across the country to tell Congress that forcing employers to use the flawed E-Verify system will harm U.S. workers and employers and undercut the country’s economic recovery. The groups held a press conference at St. Francis of Assisi, 311 SE 12th Avenue, Portland.

Speakers included Kevin Díaz, Legal Director of the ACLU of Oregon; Jeff Stone, Executive Director for the Oregon Association of Nurseries and Co-Chair of the Coalition for a Working Oregon; Javier Lara, Organizer for PCUN (Oregon’s farm worker union); Ignacio Páramo, MLK Worker Center Director for VOZ Workers’ Rights Education Project; and Valerie Chapman, Pastoral Administrator of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.

E-Verify is a federal internet-based system used by some businesses to check the work eligibility of employees. Sponsoring organizations point out that requiring employers to use E-Verify will cause lawful American workers to lose their jobs or be denied employment, increase the risk of government intrusion, drive jobs into the underground economy, deprive the government of tax revenue, and impose additional costs on small businesses—all without meeting the stated purpose of ending the hiring of undocumented workers.

The latest proposal to require all employers to use the E-Verify system is currently moving through the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill, H.R. 2164, is scheduled for a mark up this Thursday in the House Judiciary Committee.

A mandatory E-Verify system would require employers to perform a computer check for every job applicant against an error-prone government database, before any American worker could start a new job. If a worker’s information is incorrect in the system, that individual would have to go to a Social Security (SSA) or Department of Homeland Security (DHS) office to address the problem. The worker would not be able to start work until the error was resolved.

“If E-Verify becomes mandatory, millions of lawful workers will be incorrectly flagged by the system and will have to fight through a government bureaucracy to fix their records. Simple spelling errors or one wrong number can result in a non-confirmation through E-Verify, and it
can be a nightmare to get such errors fixed within overburdened federal agencies. It’s likely that a huge number of lawful workers will have their start date delayed or be denied employment,” said Kevin Díaz, Legal Director of the ACLU of Oregon.

Due to errors in the system, E-Verify has been found to erroneously identify a significant portion of U.S. citizens and lawful residents as potentially unauthorized to work. Others get fired immediately, without being given the chance by their employers to correct their records. Based on estimates of the E-Verify error rate drawn directly from DHS’ own reports, at least 1.2 million lawful workers would have to get their records fixed or lose their jobs if E-Verify becomes mandatory. Of those, 700,000 would likely lose their jobs. To make matters worse, there is no centralized place to contact to fix records and, according to the GAO, in 2009 the average response time for such requests was a staggering 104 days.

“Mandatory E-Verify will harm all workers and employers, and it won’t stop the hiring of undocumented workers,” said Ramon Ramirez, President of PCUN (Oregon’s farm worker union). “Instead, requiring the use of E-Verify will drive more workers and employers into the shadows, where they are less likely to pay taxes and workers are more likely to be abused.”

Research indicates that E-Verify fails to meet its goal of preventing unauthorized work over half of the time. One study found that E-Verify does not catch 54 percent of the undocumented immigrants who are checked through the system. Furthermore, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that a 2008 mandatory E-Verify bill would decrease tax revenue by more than $17 billion over ten years, as more employers and workers move into the underground cash economy.

“We need our legislators to offer sensible, comprehensive ideas for job creation and immigration reform, rather than attacking and scapegoating workers,” said Ignacio Páramo, MLK Worker Center Director for VOZ Workers’ Rights Education Project.

There is widespread resistance to mandatory E-Verify, and the Portland event is one of many events that are being planned across the country. Portland’s event is co-sponsored by VOZ Workers’ Rights Education Project, PCUN, Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, SEIU Local 49, Main Street Alliance of Oregon, ACLU of Oregon, National Lawyers Guild, CAUSA Oregon’s Immigrant Rights Coalition, Portland Jobs with Justice, American Friends Service Committee, Portland Immigrant Rights Coalition, and Oregon New Sanctuary Movement.