I admit it: A few years back, when I first heard about the E-Verify program, I thought it sounded reasonable. The program was described to me as a way for employers to voluntarily verify the U.S. citizenship of their employees by cross-checking their information with the online databases of the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security administration. I knew that there were flaws in the system, which sometimes misidentified workers as undocumented even when they were not. However, I thought, what employer doesn't deserve the right to check the employment eligibility of his or her workers?
My general ambivalence towards the program changed when efforts were made in Congress to mandate E-Verify for all businesses nationwide. I came to realize that this short-sighted effort on the part of a few notoriously anti-immigrant members of Congress would not only wreak havoc on our already faltering economy, it would also lay the groundwork for the marginalization of millions of our immigrant friends and neighbors. Here's why:
1. It is immoral: Our Christian faith calls us to seek justice, advocate for the marginalized, and welcome the stranger. This alone should cause us to be deeply troubled by the proliferation of any policies that target and demean immigrant communities in this country. And let us be clear: Mandating E-Verify without first creating efficient methods to allow immigrants the chance to work in our country legally, will only push our immigrant brothers and sisters further into the shadows of marginalization. Indeed, studies of companies already using the online verification system attest to improper use of E-Verify as a coercion tool by unscrupulous employers.
2. It is bad business: We can all agree that our immigration system is broken and in dire need of reform. However, if we make E-Verify mandatory without first fixing interrelated components of our federal immigration system, we will make a bad situation much worse. The negative externalities would include a decimated agricultural industry; $17.3 billion in lost tax revenue as more workers are paid "off the books"; and yearly costs to small businesses of approximately $2.6 billion. It doesn't take much imagination to see why forcing E-Verify on America is simply bad business.
3. There is a better way: With more than 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country at this time, we must acknowledge that immigrants are a vital part of our businesses, faith communities, and culture. This being the case, anything but real, comprehensive fixes to our outdated immigration system remains morally indefensible.
Instead of mandating E-Verify with no regard to the consequences, we must urge Congress to focus on creating pathways for those who wish to live and work here legally to do so. Instead of tearing apart families and deporting some of America's hardest workers, we should be ensuring that employers are not exploiting immigrants for their own profits. Instead of narrowing solutions to enforcement-only measures, we should be looking for ways to holistically overhaul our immigration system so that the United States can continue to be the vibrant and welcoming country it has always been.
How to Take Action: The faith community has a rare opportunity to weigh in on this issue. The nation is in need of a moral voice that transcends the partisan gridlock around the immigration debate. So what can you do? Well, for a start, you can send a message right now to your member of Congress urging him or her to reject mandatory E-Verify and to pursue holistic immigration reform.
And as always, you can join us at Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform in praying that the Obama administration and our national legislators will work to implement comprehensive immigration reform that simultaneously respects every person's humanity, creates jobs, sustains our economy, and protects the marginalized.
Andrew Simpson is a policy intern for Sojourners.