Sunday, February 8, 2009

Comments on E-verify Bill

Last week, I presented SB09-023 to Colorado's Senate State and Military Affairs Committee. The purpose of the bill is to require all non-government employers (the government is already required to do so) to utilize the federal government's E-verify system to verify the legal work-status of all newly-hired employees. The bill will require all non-government employers, but phases adherence over couple years, beginning with large employers of 200+ employees.

There was compelling non-partisan testimony. One of those testifying delivered one of the most comprehensive testimonies I've heard over the prior two years in which I have introduced this bill. It was so well-articulated that I post it below for your information.

Dear Senators,
Thank you for introducing SB09-023 regarding E-verify and giving me a chance to testify. Regardless of people's opinion on what to do about illegal immigration, most agree that requiring employers to obey the law is critical. The question was asked, how reliable is it: E-verify is 99.5% accurate--coming from Hewlett-Packard's Global Software business, I can assure you this is extremely good.
A government investigation of E-Verify in 2007 found:
  • 93% of employees queried through the system were verified within 5 seconds!
  • another 1.2% were verified within 24 hours with no additional action required of either the employee or the employer
  • Most of the 5.8% who received a tentative non-confirmation requiring more time turned out to be illegal aliens
  • only 0.5% were U.S. citizens or authorized foreign workers who had to contact the Social Security Administration because of errors in the database
Of the .05% the errors were ones that the workers themselves had made, such as a woman not notifying Social Security of a change in last name after a marriage. And even if the error was the government's fault, going through E-Verify was a positive experience for most because they needed to know the error existed so they could clean it up before it caused problems down the line. There are 100,000 companies using this currently and there hasn't been one person who was legally able to work in the US that has been let go due to E-verify.

This has to be looked at in terms of trade offs. When we vaccinate our children, we don't have 100% assurance that the vaccine won't cause side affects or even death. But we go ahead because the risk of that illness is much worse. Is it worth denying hundreds of thousands of unemployed legal workers a chance at jobs because one or two may get a false negative and need to deal with Social Security to straighten it out? If we were to follow this logic of 100% accuracy, we would have to say then is it worth even one legal worker committing an act of violence because they cannot find work, even one student who now not attend college because their parents are out of work or they themselves cannot finance their college because of illegal immigration? We must move forward. The Federal government has delayed E-verify for Federal Contractors when we are about to embark in billions of dollars in construction projects--this is due to the tremendous pressure that they are receiving from cheap labor interests. Just like the incredible pressure you are receiving. How will we explain to the citizens of Colorado, that their tax money will be going to hire illegal immigrants when they themselves are out of work? How will we explain that we did not even see fit to at least debate this in the Senate?

Regarding the testimony of the paid lobbyists against using E-verify, please remember that the hotel, food service, and restaurant industry are among the industries with the highest percent of illegal workers at 25%. They made all kinds of excuses why not to use E-verify, but the truth is they do not want to give up their cheap labor. E-verify doesn't even apply to current workers only new workers. It is unconscionable to enable employers to continue to break the law. I ask that SB023 at least has a chance to be debated in the Senate--this is the least we can do for the 267,000 Colorado citizens who are out of work.

Here is my testimony of 2/4/09--most of which I did not get through due to the time limit:
  1. I am a life long Democrat and a retired Vice-President of Hewlett-Packard. I have lived 30 years in Ft. Collins and have over 30 years of human resource experience.
  2. I, along with many of my Democrat colleagues, am in favor of passing SB09-023, requiring private employers to utilize the federal government's E-verify program
  3. It is inexcusable for us to allow employers to break the law and hire people who are in this country illegally whether entering this country illegally or over staying their visas.
  4. Ensuring employers hire only legal workers is he most effective method of dealing with the issue of illegal immigration; this dries of the job magnet and people here illegally will leave on their own;
  5. The impact of allowing illegal actions by employers has done several things:
  • By having an endless supply of cheap labor, it has created a slave class of employees who receive terrible wages and over burdening state infrastructure because they cannot support themselves. Plus, in Colorado, we are spending $1.1 billion extra in education, health care, and incarceration alone in subsidizing cheap labor interests.
  • It has also reduced wages for all the workers in the industry where people are hired illegally, most particularly hurting the working poor, especially minorities. In fact, in construction before the slowdown, 17% of construction workers in the US were here illegally and the wages have fallen to 1967 wages--this is not fair nor sustainable
  • We have 267,000 unemployed Coloradans looking for jobs, while we still have at least 275,000 illegal immigrants (per Pew Hispanic Trust) in the state, taking jobs away from legal workers. In this economic environment there are no "jobs Americans won't do." Just this week's Ft. Collins Coloradoan, it reports over 1000 people lining up for 160 jobs for Loveland's Embassy Suites, paying $8-10/hour. They expect as many at the second job fair for the same 160 jobs. 
  1. As Democrats, we need to stand up for American workers in this country. We need to hold employers feet to the fire
  2.  Since retiring, I have provided HR consulting to small companies. I have worked with companies who obey the law. However, I have had several Ft. Collins employers brag to me how they hire only illegal immigrants at cheap rates; how they do not pay payroll taxes and don't pay time and a half for overtime, etc. This flagrant action w/o impunity allows them to get rich and the poor to suffer. It is inexcusable.
  3. You will hear from business lobbyists that using e-verify is too burdensome--as an expert in HR, I can tell you this is a complete fabrication to ensure their access to cheap labor. Using E-verify takes seconds; over 100,000 employers currently use it and it is 99.5% accurate. In fact many honest companies also require seeing a valid driver's license, birth certificate or passport as proof of legal residency; and many, even small firms, do back ground checks or drug tests to protect themselves. E-verify is not a burden.
  4. Just having employers use E-verify will discourage illegal immigrants from applying; this is happening in Arizona. I can speak from experience, that whenever we started drug testing at a Hewlett-Packard site, very few failed the drug test--those using drugs were deterred from applying.
  5. Ensuring all employers hire people legally ensures an even playing field. I have a friend who owns a drywall business and always hired legally; he was put out of business 2 years ago because he could not compete with the unscrupulous employers who knowingly broke the law, hiring people illegally for extremely low wages. Why are we rewarding those who disobey the law and make it impossible for those obeying the law to compete? This is inexcusable and bad for business.
  6. Another friend who does house painting also has had to get food stamps and is applying for other assistance, because he cannot compete with the wages paid by companies hiring people illegally. This was long before the building slowdown. My friend who cleans houses has had to continuously lower her fees--over the last 5 years. This has had real impact to real people.
  7. Some will say dealing with the impacts of illegal immigrations is the federal governments' responsibility--frankly, Colorado citizens cannot wait. The impact is here--with state costs, with our working men and women, especially the working poor. The burden is at the state level, not in Washington. Doing something also sends a strong message to Washington that we need to listen to our citizens and stand up for our workers.
  8. E-verify is a simple solution that enables an even playing field for businesses; allows people to compete for jobs for fair wages; will help improve our economy by putting more money in the hands of our workers and kept in the US; and reduce State spending for health care, incarceration and education by up to $1.1 billion. The time is now; Gov. Ritter said he would help businesses verify citizenship when hiring; let's be true to that promise.
Thank you to the committee for working on this critical bill and thank you for serving in the Senate for us. Please feel free to contact me if I can help you in any way.
Trudy Haines