Sunday, January 24, 2010

A good Federal jobs program that costs taxpayers nothing

January 24, 2010 6:50 PM

By Dave Schultheis

If we could wave a magic wand and add 100,000 new jobs to Colorado’s economy over the next three years, who wouldn’t go for it? We do not have a magic wand, but we have the next best thing: a program to reserve new jobs only for citizens and legal immigrants.

The internet-based federal E-Verify program allows employers to screen all new hires against a database that matches names to Social Security numbers and immigration records. More than 175,000 employers are now enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security program, and nationally, one in four new hires are processed by E-Verify.

Why doesn’t Colorado utilize this program? Actually, it does, but only timidly. Since 2006, any company doing business with a state government agency must participate in the federal E-Verify program.

So, why doesn’t Colorado require all employers to use it? Strangely, that proposal has been opposed mainly because… well, because it works. E-verify is effective in denying jobs to illegal aliens. Therefore business owners, who think they need illegal workers, oppose any measure to reserve jobs for legal workers.

Many employers end up avoiding the program because it works too well. Those opponents are joined by advocates for “migrant rights” who think a right to an illegal job should be guaranteed to anyone who succeeds in crossing our borders illegally. The people not represented in that odd coalition are the unfortunate American workers losing jobs to illegal workers.

Opponents blocked a proposal in the 2006 special session of the state legislature, and every year since, that would have mandated use of E-Verify across Colorado. In its place the legislature passed a toothless measure merely requiring employers to keep records that are then supposedly subject to audit. Three years later, not one employer has been fined and not one illegal worker has been dismissed under this meaningless law.

It is hard to make a serious argument that employers cannot find legal workers in an economy suffering from historically high unemployment. Farm laborers, you say?

The federal government already has a program for guest workers in agriculture, ski resorts, landscaping and similar seasonal businesses. Moreover, less than 5 percent of illegal aliens are employed in agriculture according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

It’s time to move forward to assure Colorado jobs for Colorado citizens and legal immigrants. E-Verify is not “anti-immigrant,” because real immigrants have green cards and can work legally.

Arguments against the program by the employer community rely mainly on myths and scare tactics. Here are a few facts opponents try to hide:

Based on a Government Accounting Office audit, the internet-based E-Verify program has an enviable error rate of only .004. More than 96 percent of new hire applicants are processed and approved within 24 hours.

Only 2.8 percent of applicants are rejected due to a mismatch between name and Social Security number, and 90 percent of those persons do not protest the rejection. More than 175,000 employers now participate nationally and an average 1,200 employers joined the program each week in 2009.

The cost to employers to set up the program is less than $100.

Employer participation in the program has grown 274 percent since 2007.

In September 2009, all federal agencies began requiring contractors to use the program.

Another argument sometimes used by opponents is that expansion of the E-verify program should await congressional action on immigration reform. In truth, the exact opposite is the case. Only when the public is convinced the nation is enforcing existing laws against illegal workers will it make any sense to consider a more ambitious reform.

In fact, that is the position of the Obama administration. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano declared in a November speech at the ultra-liberal Center for American Progress that “E-verify is an essential element of any comprehensive reform agenda.”

The federal E-Verify program is neither radical nor punitive.

Any employer participating in the program can use that participation as an affirmative defense against federal immigration enforcement if the company is ever audited by immigration authorities.

Adopting the E-Verify program will establish a level playing field for employers wanting to obey the law but are in competition against other employers using illegal labor to cut costs. This unfair competition will be reduced drastically if all employers would be required to hire only legal workers.

I plan to introduce legislation once more to adopt the E-Verify program in Colorado. If legislation fails, a ballot initiative will allow Colorado voters to make that decision on November 2.

State Sen. Schultheis is a Republican from Colorado Springs