Blog of Rights

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs — Even the ACLU is Talking About Jobs

By Chris Calabrese, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 11:34am

Everyone in Washington is talking about jobs these days. It's not surprising — with the country trapped in a long economic downturn and the President making it his key priority. Job creation is not something in which we claim any expertise, but that doesn't mean we can't pay attention to our common sense.

This week the spin over creating jobs has gotten so broad it has even pulled in our issues. Specifically, House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith is pushing the committee to approve legislation to mandate the use of the E-Verify program by all employers. E-Verify is a series of connected databases, in essence a giant list, of everyone who is supposed to be allowed to work in the US. Before you start your job, your employer is supposed to check E-Verify. If you are on the list, you get a job. If not, you don't (or you have to go wait in line at a Social Security Administration (SSA) office to prove they made a mistake).

Chairman Smith calls this bill, titled the "Legal  Workforce Act", a jobs bill. Chairman Smith says undocumented immigrants won't be able to take new jobs and these will be freed up for other people. But there are lots of problems with that analysis. Economists say it is wrong, for one. And from an ACLU perspective the biggest problem is that it ignores the effect that E-Verify will have on all of the workers who are lawfully working in the US.

For years the ACLU has complained about high error rates and lack of due process in E-Verify. In spite of improvements, the system is just not that accurate. Trying to keep a list of more than 150 million workers is really tough — due to name changes, data entry errors and many other reasons.

Even using the lowest possible estimates for mistakes, if E-Verify had been mandatory last year, 1.2 million workers would have had to correct errors in E-Verify. Approximately 770,000 would have lost their jobs simply because their information was wrong in a government database. They all would have flooded SSA offices to try to fix their records. If workers don't succeed they are out of luck — there is no court review of E-Verify errors.

E-Verify is currently being used as a voluntary system and we're already seeing examples of this problem. Jessica St. Pierre is a US citizen who was offered a high paying job as a telecommunications worker in Florida. Unfortunately she couldn't be cleared through E-Verify. After countless calls and trips to SSA and the E-Verify office, she still couldn't fix her record. After months she stopped trying and took a lower paying job at a company that didn't use E-Verify (eventually it was determined her employer was putting two spaces after her social security number). That wouldn't be an option if this bill passed.

While the ACLU doesn't claim expertise in how to jump start the American economy, we're pretty sure that it doesn't involve kicking millions of people out of their jobs and miring them in government bureaucracy. If you want to let Congress know what you think of the "Legal Workforce Act" please act now.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this blog post referred to Rep. Smith's bill as the "Lawful Workforce Act." It is the "Legal Workforce Act."

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