Alarmed by congressional efforts to beef up mandatory workforce verification, pro-illegal immigration activists demonstrated, Sept. 14, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Jaime Contreras, District chair of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ, voiced his opposition to new legislation. “Undocumented immigrant workers are overwhelmingly law-abiding taxpayers, not a criminal threat,” Contreras insisted, as ten protesters held up signs reading “Mandatory E-Verify Equals Jobs Killer.”

E-Verify is a free Internet-based government program that compares an employee’s “Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9” (EEVY) to data from official records. If the information matches, that person may legally work in the United States. If not, the employer and worker are notified, required to resolve the issue and then to report this to the appropriate agency.

The program is an outgrowth of 1986 laws intended to curb the hiring of illegal aliens. But enforcement has been scattershot, sometimes lax, and unevenly applied.

Numerous schemes, especially those involving counterfeit documentation, are employed to thwart the system.

Supporters of E-Verify react to the demonstration. “SEIU is a radical union that supports and promotes the illegal alien agenda in America which dangerously harms American workers especially people in the Black community,” said Del. Pat McDonough, responsible for waging a successful campaign to stop the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act and placed it on a state referendum.

Like Maryland, others states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Utah, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Louisiana passed strict laws to protect jobs for legal Americans.

After years of pressure from groups fixated on the growth of the undocumented workforce, lawmakers have begun to field bills to stringently fill in every identified enforcement gap. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tx.) has offered H.R. 2164, while in the Senate, the Accountability Through Electronic Verification Act S. 1196 has been presented by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Ia.) as companion legislation.

Smith called on President Obama to make E-Verify part of his jobs plan, arguing the law could open up millions of jobs for legal residents as the unemployment remains above 9 percent. “A federal E-Verify requirement is needed now more than ever,” Smith wrote in a press release.

Of the two bills, some of the provisions in Sen. Grassley’s are tougher, but on balance, they mirror each other. Business owners will be compelled to abide by E-verify requirements or suffer stiff punishment. The new statute would be enforced nationally and bar any state or local government from opting out or substituting locally-developed remedies.

Sen. Grassley said in a press release, “This legislation allows us to hold employers accountable while giving them the tools needed to abide by the law in their hiring practices.”

Nora Escobar, a Maryland restaurant owner swept aside enforcement concerns. “My job isn’t to check someone’s documentation; it’s to employ people. We feel that right now in this country we are under siege.”

But many Americans are not sympathetic to undocumented workers taking precedent over legal citizens. “We have millions of Americans out of work, underemployed, or have given up. Jobs should go to legal Americans, not those who deliberately break the law,” said William Buchanan, member of the America Council for Immigration Reform. “Employers are well organized. Many people hire illegal workers to get an edge over their competitors to reap an economic advantage.”

Barbara Coufal, assistant director of AFSCME’s Legislative Department, addressed her union’s main concerns about the long-term effects of the proposed laws on undocumented workers. “There is great risk that these workers will be pushed into the underground economy by employers who will decide that they don’t want to meet the law’s requirements,” Coufal said.

But at least one Black leader said the rights of Americans are being swept aside for those of undocumented workers. “What I learned is that DC’s liberal community cares more about the employment of Central Americans than legal Washingtonians,“ said Leo Alexander, former candidate for DC mayor, who made E-Verify one proponent of his campaign. “Businesses have a fiduciary responsibility to hire legal workers because of the effect it has on the unemployment rate and the social safety net on that given community. We must end the cycle of dependency on government programs by providing and securing jobs for Americans and legal residents.”

?Researcher DeRutter Jones contributed additional material for this story.


Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO