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OR Groups Speak Out About E-Verify

September 15, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore. - From immigrants' rights groups to religious, labor and business organizations, more than a dozen groups in Oregon joined in a national day of action on Wednesday to voice their united opposition to the Electronic Employment Verification System (EEVS), commonly known as E-Verify. It is a government database that some employers use to check the immigration status of workers or job applicants. In a few states, its use is mandatory, but not in Oregon. However, a bill in Congress would change that.

Immigrants' rights groups are not the only ones concerned about the possibility. Others opposing E-Verify that participated in the day of action include the American Friends Service Committee, CAUSA, the Main Street Alliance, the Oregon Association of Nurseries, PCUN, and SEIU Local 49.

Kevin Diaz, legal director with the ACLU of Oregon, says a person's immigration status won't matter on the job, if their information in the federal database is wrong.

"If for some reason your check doesn't clear because of one of those errors, it could mean that you lose some employment, or you may not be able to start work until that all gets cleared up. That may require you to go to various federal agencies to figure out where the errors are."

Those who support making E-Verify mandatory say the system is not unreliable, and that a survey last year of employers who use it indicated most are satisfied with it. The current controversy is about making it mandatory.

The ACLU also has privacy concerns about the database, says Diaz. He points out that, even if the error rate is small, it translates to more than 1 million legal workers with inaccurate records.

E-Verify proponents contend it would put more workers on the job legally and drop Oregon's unemployment rate. However, Diaz says that that view assumes jobless workers in other industries would want to relocate and retrain for the kinds of jobs in agriculture or food service often held by undocumented workers. He's convinced mandatory E-Verify would create more problems than it solves.

"Essentially, you're causing the potential to lose jobs for Americans. You've got an extra burden that falls particularly hard on small business. You have the potential to lose tax revenue. And it doesn't even accomplish what it says it's supposed to accomplish."

The legislation (HR 2164) to make electronic work-eligibility checks mandatory is in the House Judiciary Committee in Congress today.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR