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Not ready for prime time.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Oregon businesses are taking a high-profile role in the fight against a Republican proposal to require companies in every state to use the federal E-Verify system to confirm whether prospective workers are authorized to work legally in the United States.

The Coalition for a Working Oregon, representing 22 Oregon business organizations, opposes a proposal by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, for an electronic mandate - and for good reason. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office warns that E-Verify is plagued by inaccurate records, and is vulnerable to identity theft and employer fraud.

In the words of Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries, Smith's proposal is "a recipe for disaster," both for agriculture and "the national economy."

Smith's bill would have a corrosive impact on Oregon's economy, as well.

The Oregon coalition - composed of groups including Associated Oregon Industries, the Oregon Farm Bureau Federation, the Oregon Association of Nurseries, the Oregon Home Builders Association and the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association - says its members would have to deal with the fallout from a flawed E-Verify system, including the loss of legitimate employees.

Because an E-Verify mandate focuses on just one facet of a complex, interconnected immigration system, it could leave some industries with an inadequate labor supply, coalition members warn.

A 2008 Oregon State University study found that a mandatory federal verification system would cost Oregon 173,500 jobs in the short term - 97,500 of them undocumented workers and 76,000 legal workers. The study estimated that the state would lose $650 million in tax revenue.

Citing "a mismatch in skills, education and location between undocumented workers and Oregon's unemployed," the study concluded that an exodus of undocumented workers would not significantly reduce the state's unemployment rate. As Stone told the (Portland) Oregonian newspaper, "Unfortunately, the Intel worker who finds himself unemployed will not go dig trees."

An estimated 250,000 of the nation's 6 million to 7 million employers now use E-Verify on a voluntary basis. The number is small for a reason; employers don't trust the program's accuracy.

In fairness, the government has made progress in improving E-Verify. A recent study found the program has an error rate of just under 1 percent (in 2008, Intel Corp. reported that just over 12 percent of its workers were wrongly identified as ineligible). But the program remains unacceptable if nearly one out of every 100 legal job applicants is wrongly tagged as ineligible to work. Worse, the National Immigration Law Center projects that nearly a half of those workers would be unable to resolve their status in a timely manner and would lose their legitimate employment.

Clearly, this is a program that's not ready for prime time. Until the federal government fixes E-Verify, there should be no legislation mandating its use. Employers should not be saddled with a verification tool that doesn't work. Thousands of Americans should not lose their jobs because of data errors.

The nation needs an verification system that is reliable. But the greater need is for comprehensive immigration reform. Fixing the nation's dysfunctional immigration system will require legislation that recognizes the millions of illegal immigrants who are already working in the United States, that ensures that U.S. businesses have the workers they need by providing ways for foreign workers to legally come to the U.S., and that provides effective border and, yes, workplace enforcement.

Until there is comprehensive reform - and until the government can provide an employer verification system that gets it right - Congress should reject efforts to make the use of E-Verify mandatory.
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Title Annotation:Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Jul 18, 2011
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