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President Obama: No to E-Verify-Only;  Only CIR Will End Illegal Immigration

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In an important pronouncement at a White House press conference today, President Obama made it clear that mandatory E-Verify without comprehensive immigration reform is unacceptable, saying “We need to have a more balanced approach than just a verification system.”  He once again spelled out his strong support for a comprehensive immigration reform package, one that includes “tough border security, going after employers that are illegally hiring and exploiting workers, and making sure that we also have a pathway to legal status for those who are living in the shadows right now.”  In May, the White House outlined a similar position in a “blueprint” on immigration reform, stating that the expansion of E-Verify “must be accompanied by a legalization program that allows unauthorized workers to get right with the law.” 

In addition to reiterating his support for comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act, the President also made it clear that he is fully aware of the problems with the current E-Verify program and how the program’s faults harm U.S. workers and businesses.  He’s right to join the many voices from across the spectrum in raising these cautions.  Currently some 4% of employers – and only 2% of small businesses – use E-Verify.  Under Lamar Smith’s bill, 100% of employers will have to use the system within three short years.  What will be the impact of such a dramatic expansion of E-Verify on businesses, workers, and taxpayers?  According to a recent analysis by the Center for American Progress, an estimated 770,000 American workers could lose job offers due to E-Verify’s error-prone databases, the mandate would cost small business an estimated $2.6 billion, and, based on a similar bill scored by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office in 2007, $17 billion in tax revenue would be lost over 10 years as more jobs move into the underground economy.  Remarkably, these costs would be in exchange for a system that identifies unauthorized workers only 46% of the time.  

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund: “The President gets it.  The way to end illegal immigration is through comprehensive immigration reform, an approach that balances enforcement with legal immigration in ways both effective and humane.  In stark contrast, mandatory E-Verify on its own will not only hurt ordinary American workers and small business owners, it will drive payroll workers off the books, allow bad actor employers to undercut honest ones, and send the American agriculture industry out of business and overseas.  The President knows the system’s flaws.  Let’s hope members of both parties heed his warnings, move towards comprehensive reform, and resist a bill that will make our dysfunctional immigration system even worse.”

The timely question came from Antonieta Cádiz of La Opinión,, who asked President Obama whether he would veto a mandatory E-Verify bill that did not legalize undocumented workers.  Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) have introduced mandatory E-Verify bills, and the House is poised to take up the Smith legislation this summer.  Smith and Grassley’s aim is to further the radical right-wing strategy dubbed by proponents as “attrition through enforcement.”  Their goal?  Nothing less than the mass deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants, an ugly fantasy that is as unrealistic as it is un-American. 

Added Sharry, “The President did not address the question of whether he would veto such legislation if it came to his desk, and Presidents typically don’t issue veto threats unless and until they see the details of the legislation about to emerge from Congress.  If Democrats in the House and Senate stand strong and make it clear that this latest mandatory E-Verify scheme is a sham that will cost Americans and immigrants alike, it will never reach his desk.  But if it does, we hope and expect he will translate today’s firm stance into a courageous veto.” 

America’s Voice Education Fund — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.