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I Went to Washington and Democracy Broke Out

An honest and open debate was had on a key issue facing our country and our economy.
Chris Calabrese,
Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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October 25, 2011

Veterans of Washington D.C. political scene are well familiar with congressional staff briefings. For the overwhelming majority of you who don’t share that dubious honor, these briefings are aimed at congressional staff and the public in an effort to avoid holding many individual meetings on a specific issue. They are typically dry affairs with a few panelists and some Q&A.

That was not the experience I had yesterday afternoon. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank, held a briefing on legislation that would make the E-Verify program mandatory. E-Verify is an ongoing effort by the federal government to essentially produce a giant list of everyone who is authorized to work in the United States. Supporters want all employers to check it before they can hire a new employee. As the ACLU has said in the past, the system is riddled with errors, keeps lawful employees from working, lacks due process and may result in a national ID system.

But this briefing was about more than the ACLU expressing our concerns. A representative from the National Small Business Association spoke saying it would harm the economy and keep small business owners from hiring. Andrew Langer, a leader in the Tea Party movement, talked about how many small business owners hate the idea of E-Verify and didn’t want to be immigration police. I guess we hit a nerve.

After we gave our presentations and opened the floor to questions, the first one was from Andrea Loving. She is one of the lawyers who handle E-Verify for House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, the chief proponent of the bill. Needless to say, she knows a great deal about the issue and didn’t really have a question. But she did have a difference of opinion on the effects of E-Verify. For the next 30 minutes, the panelists and Andrea had what can only be described as a spirited discussion.

I don’t have a transcript to consult, but I think it’s safe to say that Loving thinks E-Verify is an accurate system. The ACLU believes even a small error rate, when multiplied by 150 million American workers, will result in a lot of people being wrongfully denied work. Loving also believes that mandatory E-Verify will push undocumented people out of jobs, freeing them up for legal workers. The ACLU believes it will instead drive them off the books where they won’t pay taxes or be treated fairly.

But no matter which side you believe is right on the issue (though for the record, we have a lot of facts to back up our side), it was a great moment – an honest and open debate on a key issue facing our country and our economy. It livened up a small congressional conference room and was far and away the best briefing I’ve had the privilege to be part of.

Join us in telling Congress that you don’t like E-Verify, either.

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