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EL PASO, Texas (KFOX14) —
Advocates say the E-Verify system is a crucial tool for preventing illegal immigration by removing a key incentive for undocumented immigrants.
While opponents say the federal program can lead to discrimination and exclusion.
E-Verify is an internet-based system that allows employers to verify if their employees are authorized to work in the United States.
It does that by comparing the information provided by a job application with data from the Social Security Administration and sometimes the Department of Homeland Security.
Supporters of E-Verify argue that it’s a necessary tool for maintaining the integrity of the American workforce and ensuring that jobs are reserved for people who are legally authorized to work.
“It’s currently illegal to hire somebody who is not authorized to work but it’s not required for employers to verify the information that people give,” said Jeremy Beck, the vice president of an organization called Numbers USA. “So right now, if you’re a new hire, you write down your information on an I-9 form, a piece of paper, and the employer, the onus is on the employer to pretty much guess if that information is accurate.”
Numbers USA is a national nonprofit that looks to reduce immigration through policy reform.
“Yeah, so it is and it’s a national issue and it’s a big issue and it’s become kind of a polarized issue but E-Verify is actually one of the solutions that has widespread support across the board regardless of political persuasion, background or ethnicity,” Beck said.
Implementing E-Verify universally – on all job applications – would provide a consistent and reliable method for ensuring that all workers are legally eligible for employment, Beck said.
“The word has gotten out all over the world and they’re all coming to the Texas border, the southern border right now, from countries spanning the globe, that yeah it’s illegal to work in the United States if you come in illegally but they don’t check and I’ve got a brother or cousin or an aunt or an uncle and they have been working there for years and it’s no big deal,” Beck said. “You just put down a few numbers on your I-9 form. They put it in the filing cabinet, and they put it away and so people put their earned money, sometimes their lives or the lives of their loved ones into the hands of human smugglers coyotes, and cartels to get here because they know that if they get in, they’re going to be able to find work.”
On the other side of the debate, immigrant advocates caution against the wholesale implementation of E-Verify.
While the system may seem effective on the surface, immigrant advocates warn of unintended consequences, like racial profiling or discrimination.
“I think what’s important to analyze here is that the E-Verify processes, or the E-Verify system, is meant to criminalize, to punish the person working, not the employer. That we were really focused on,” said Alan Lizarraga with the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso.
Lizarraga warns that programs like E-Verify can also fail to address real-world concerns for workers.
“We, you know, we haven’t really come out against E-Verify per se directly but it’s this criminalization of individuals of people that want to work, criminalization of people that work, sometimes, you know, more hours, they’re underpaid, and this system, E-Verify, it would just put them on the pathway to more cruelty, to more unjust hours, to unfair payments, and that’s really what we should focus on,” Lizarraga said.
Earlier this summer, officials with the Department of Homeland Security in El Paso held a news conference, touting a voluntary program that encourages local businesses to use E-Verify.
“We talk about what in the government, and it’s now right, it’s a hot plate the Beltway, they’re talking about how many got away, how many individuals are here in the United States illegally and at some point they are going to have to obtain employment,” said Francisco Burrola, the special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in El Paso.
At that news conference, Burrola showcased several local employers that use E-Verify through the Image Program, which was created in 2006.
“It’s voluntary, come join us. We will provide you the tools and the training that will help you identify fraudulent documents and make your company that much safer,” Burrola said.
David Valle is the human resources director at Education Service Center Region 19.
“Some of the fraud that’s happening right now, because of the influx in immigration and individuals taking advantage of that, for those people that they may think they have legitimate documents and presenting them to us and they may be fraudulent, and so we sign up with the Image program as well as the E-Verify program to make sure that we have valid documents presented to us at the time of employment,” Valle said.
In El Paso, only about two dozen employers take part in the Image program.
Burrola says he wants that number to grow and insists that E-Verify is an effective tool for maintaining control over the workforce.
“I would love for the industry here in El Paso, Texas to join the Image program and utilize E-Verify,” Burrola said. “What is the challenge? Unless you have knowledge that you’re hiring undocumented foreign nationals who are not authorized to work here. That’s the only thing I can think of.”
In the most recent state legislature in Texas, a Republican-backed bill to make E-Verify mandatory failed to garner enough support to make it past committee. But a similar measure in Florida did win approval earlier this year, requiring E-Verify for employers who have 25 employees or more.
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