Letter from AILA to the House Opposing Deportation-Only Proposals

March 4, 2008


Dear Representative:

We, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), write to express our strong opposition to recent deportation-only proposals that mandate immediate implementation of and universal participation in an electronic employment verification system. While we support efforts to make the employment verification process simpler, more reliable, and accurate, these myopic legislative proposals are highly counterproductive. They include the Secure America through Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act (H.R. 4088), introduced by Reps. Heath Shuler (D-NC), Brian Bilbray (R-CA), and Tom Tancredo (R-CO); and the New Employee Verification Act (H.R. 5515), another deportation-only bill recently introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson (R- TX).

Proponents of these and related measures tout them as a panacea for the country's myriad immigration maladies, but mandatory implementation of an error-riddled, unreliable electronic verification program would exacerbate the very problems it purports to solve. Far from a silver bullet, mandates along the lines proposed will lead to erroneous firings, discrimination by employers, and exploitation of millions of workers, including U.S. citizens and legal immigrants ensnared by the system's errors and lack of safeguards.

Americans of every stripe are hungry for Congress to own up to its responsibilities and solve this national policy crisis. Sadly, these proposals only offer more dysfunction, more empty rhetoric, and more hardship for workers and employers. Here is why:

1. The proposed systems are based on deeply flawed databases containing erroneous or outdated information on individuals, resulting in an unacceptably high number of false positive "hits" when put into use. Common reasons for these hits include name changes due to marriage, simple typos, and other related, otherwise innocuous, mistakes. Numerous studies show, for example, that naturalized U.S. citizens are disproportionately affected by a near 10% false positive rate, and that employees who receive tentative non-confirmation "No-Match" notices, automatically generated by a hit, are subsequently subjected to a presumption of guilt and are invariably discriminated against, even before being given enough time to properly challenge the finding.

2. The infrastructure currently in place is simply ill-equipped to handle mandatory universal program participation. The current voluntary Basic Pilot employment eligibility verification program, which the GAO and even DHS admit is riddled with structural problems and unacceptably high error rates, currently has about 52,000 employer participants. Mandating participation in the new E-Verify program, which is based on Basic Pilot, would raise the number of employers using the system to over 7 million. If the system now in place is plagued with problems when only 52,000 employers volunteer to participate, it is easy to imagine the kind of outright chaos that will result when more than 7 million are forced to take part. The September 11 tragedy underscored the perils of inadequate database connectivity and data accuracy. These fundamental flaws have not been rectified and the prospect of building a more robust system on such shaky foundations is foolhardy.

3. Implementing the E-Verify program as a means of curbing illegal immigration simply ignores the true nature of the problem. More than 5% of the current workforce is undocumented. If all employees, even those currently grandfathered from the employment verification requirements of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (hired before 11/7/86) are subject to verification without any companion legislative proposal to provide some path to legal status for the undocumented, employers will experience the full brunt of this issue without any relief valve for valued long-term employees. Even if an employment verification system could be implemented without the extreme consequences that are inevitable given the current technological hurdles, undocumented workers fired as a result of this system will not simply leave the country en masse, but will instead look for other forms of work within the U.S. And they are sure to find it, for employers who simply cannot locate U.S. workers to fill low-skilled positions will be forced to close shop, take their operations "off the books", or move off-shore. The result, therefore, will be a deepening of the underground economy where U.S. workers can't compete in today's global market and undocumented workers are even more exposed to exploitation. Unless and until we address root problems in our system and provide a mechanism for undocumented workers to gain legal status, layering mandatory electronic employment verification on our economy at this time will be placing kerosene, not water, on the fire.

AILA believes that credible worksite enforcement is a logical component of any practical effort to fix the ills that plague our nation's immigration system. But mandating implementation of an electronic employment verification system built on an inadequate platform and populated by flawed databases is large-scale folly and will trigger untold hardship for U.S. businesses and workers in a time of economic challenge. Moreover, pretending that such a proposal could work without providing a path to legal status for even a portion of the undocumented workers and families already contributing to this economy suggests an extreme misunderstanding of the problem.

We urge you to strongly oppose deportation-only proposals such as the SAVE Act and the New Employee Verification Act . These bills are being sold as solutions for employers but they are nothing more than wolves dressed in sheep's clothing.

If you should have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Marshall Fitz, AILA's Director of Advocacy, at mfitz@aila.org.

Sincerely yours,

Kathleen Campbell Walker

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 08030574.