By Tori Richards | Watchdog.org
The federal right-to-work database E-Verify has become a casualty of the government shutdown, leaving some to wonder whether the Obama administration is taking advantage of Washington politics to kill a program unpopular with Democrats on Capitol Hill.
“How convenient is that, to shut this down?” asked Evelyn Miller, a board member with the California Coalition for Immigration Reform. “Homeland Security has been a joke since the beginning. (Director) Janet Napolitano does not want to uphold the law, she wants illegal aliens here.”
E-Verify is a free database that allows employers to check Social Security numbers to verify a person has a legal right to work in the U.S. Since its creation in 1997, liberal critics have blasted the program as a tool to keep undocumented workers from getting jobs. Still, by 2012, federal employees and certain federal contractors were required to use the program, and 20 states had enacted some form of E-Verify requirement.
In 2011, Republicans in the House and Senate introduced bills that would have required all employers to use E-Verify. It failed to pass along party lines.
But when the budget standoff exploded into a shutdown last week, E-Verify was shuttered and some-300 people who work in the Verification Division were sent home on
furlough, DHS spokesman Christopher Bentley told Watchdog.
“It’s the whole program (that is furloughed), to look at it as just the website itself is disingenuous,” Bentley said. “It’s not just as simple as flipping a switch on and off.”
He wouldn’t comment on whether the Obama administration was glad to see E-Verify go.
“I won’t address that one way or another,” Bentley said. “I won’t get into a partisan discussion.”
But don’t tell that to Miller or the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Center for Immigration Studies.
“It does need to be constantly updated,” said the center’s Director of Research Steven Camarota. “But in a one-week period can they leave it up? Of course. There is no reason it had to be shut down. The immigration system is still working; it’s not like people are not arriving.”
Camarota stopped short of saying it was intentionally targeted for a shutdown by Obama, but said, “It seems like another example of making things as unnecessarily difficult as possible to blame the Republicans for the shutdown. The administration seems intent on creating as many inconveniences as possible.”
The AFL-CIO did not respond to a request for comment on the impact the E-Verify shutdown has on various work projects ongoing in the 20 states. The ACLU did not respond to whether their membership was happy the site was not functioning.
Labornotes, a monthly magazine for labor activists, has been opposed to E-Verify from its inception.
“There are errors in the system,” said Labornotes’ editor, Jane Slaughter. “People who do have a legitimate right to work are often caught up in the system and getting threatening letters from their employer, saying, ‘You have to get your affairs in order.’
“We are for people being able to come to this country and get jobs,” Slaughter said. “E-Verify tries to keep people from doing that thing. There are a lot of pressure for employers to use it.”
The conservative think tank Heritage Foundation disputed concerns by organized labor.
“The system is quite accurate — as of two years ago was 99 percent accurate,” said David Inserra, Heritage’s research assistant for national security and cyber security. “If an immigrant came here legally and followed the rules, E-Verify won’t interfere with their ability to work.”
E-Verify requires federal new hires to submit enter their information in the database at least three days before the hire date. This mandate has been waived during the shutdown, according to the E-Verify website. What isn’t clear is the impact it has on various states with their own sets of laws.
“The shutdown doesn’t mean that the database can’t be there (operating),” Camarota said. “So it doesn’t get updated or tech support — that’s different than saying the thing can’t function. This seems like it’s creating a huge backlog when they didn’t have to.”
As for E-Verify itself, the site offered its condolences:
“We apologize for any inconvenience and look forward to serving you once we resume operations.”
Contact Tori Richards at email@example.com or on twitter @newswriter2
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