June 15, 2011 STATEMENT — LIRS Statement for Hearing: “H.R. 2164, the Legal Workforce Act”

Press Contact: Fabio Lomelino, Assistant Director for Media Relations
410-230-2721, lirspress@lirs.org

BALTIMORE, June 15, 2011—Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) is the national organization established by Lutheran churches in the United States to serve uprooted people. “Through our extensive work with churches, network partners, refugees and migrants all across the country, LIRS sees the increasingly important role that migrants play in the U.S. economy, starting up new businesses, revitalizing communities, increasing tax revenues, and filling jobs that many Americans are unwilling to perform,” said Linda Hartke, LIRS President and CEO. “The Legal Workforce Act will not accomplish what it promises, put many workers who are legally allowed to work at risk of being fired, and be burdensome to small businesses. Widespread use of E-verify will only be fair and meaningful for our country when it protects the rights of workers and is implemented in the context of broader immigration reform.”

The Legal Workforce Act and E-Verify

The Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 2164), legislation introduced yesterday by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX-21), is a broad-reaching bill that would impact millions of individuals in the United States – both U.S. citizens and non-citizens. Within just three years, H.R. 2164 would require all U.S. businesses to use E-Verify, an internet-based employer verification program, including small businesses with as few as one employee.

E-Verify was created in 1997 and is currently implemented by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in conjunction with the Social Security Administration. Use of E-Verify for new hires is required for federal agencies; and some federal contractors and subcontractors must use the system for both newly hired workers and employees already working on contract.[1] Some states have also passed legislation that requires E-Verify for new hires. However, for all other U.S. employers, E-Verify is voluntary. While program participation continues to increase, only three percent of the approximately 7 million U.S. employers – or just over 250,000 employers – are enrolled.[2]

Impact of Mandatory Expansion of E-Verify

If E-Verify were required for every U.S. business, it would have a tremendous impact on all sectors of the American economy. Here are some important figures that should give policymakers caution before rushing ahead with mandatory expansion plans.

  • Based on current E-Verify error rates, if all U.S. businesses in the United States were required to use E-Verify, it is estimated that more than 770,000 workers would be wrongly fired.[3]
  • According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, without any other accompanying immigration reforms, over a period of ten years mandatory E-Verify would decrease federal revenues by more than $17 billion as more workers would work off the books for businesses that do not pay their fare share of taxes.
  • Nearly 75 percent of all U.S. businesses have fewer than ten employees. However, only 12 percent of all employers that use E-Verify are small businesses.[4]
  • Undocumented workers are estimated to make up between 50 and 75 percent of the U.S. agricultural labor force.[5] If these workers were forced out of their jobs, production costs and prices would increase, impacting Americans all over the country.

E-Verify is Also Problematic for Refugees and Asylees

E-Verify expansion would also create more obstacles for lawful migrants, some of whom have arrived to the United States in search of protection, such as refugees and migrants granted asylum in the United States (asylees). Federal government data reveals a number of cases of refugees and asylees whose employment was terminated, suspended or was delayed because of problems with E-Verify. Here are a few examples:[6]

  • DHS issued a Somali refugee in Nebraska with an employment authorization card that listed an incorrect birth date. When the refugee was hired by an employer who uses E-Verify, the system could not confirm the worker’s eligibility. The refugee contested the notice. However, the employer did not provide the refugee with the proper way to resolve the issue. Because the refugee did not know how to contact the correct DHS office and, thus, did not contact DHS in a timely way, the refugee’s job was terminated.
  • When a Burmese refugee in Texas was hired, his employer incorrectly entered his date of birth. Therefore, when the employer tried to confirm the refugee’s work eligibility, the E-Verify system issued a tentative non-confirmation. The employer then incorrectly suspended the employee until they could resolve the issue. To make matters worse, the employer did not provide the refugee with the proper letter and contact information to follow up with DHS.
  • In Tennessee, an asylee from Guinea was hired by a trucking company. However, the company incorrectly listed his information and the system indicated that it could not confirm the asylee’s work authorization. The employer then did not provide him with information about how to resolve the issue.

Although all three of these individuals were ultimately able to regain their jobs, they all faced undue harm, lost wages, and had to take additional steps to fix errors made by the federal government or their employers. These cases underscore the challenges that national expansion of E-Verify would likely create for thousands of U.S. citizens and work authorized non-citizens.

Mandatory Employer Verification Must be Accompanied by Other Reforms

The United States needs a functional employment verification system to ensure U.S. employers hire legal workers, to identify unscrupulous employers and to protect all workers. However, while the government should continue to improve employer verification programs to reduce their impact on U.S. citizen and legal workers, policymakers must keep in mind that there are more than 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country with important economic, social and familial ties to the country.

The success of a mandatory employment verification program will depend on full participation by both U.S. employers and workers. However, “H.R. 2164 would drive undocumented workers off the books and result in the likely growth of a large underground economy, not to mention force undocumented community members even further into a shadowed existence,” said the Rev. Gerald Mansholt, Bishop of the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. “The bill would have a devastating impact on our communities and economy.”

To ensure full participation in a national employer verification system, Congress must fix the broken U.S. immigration system by including a pathway to earned legal status for undocumented workers, protecting families and workers, and ensuring the humane enforcement of immigration laws. Absent an immigration overhaul, Congress and the Administration must pursue smart policies that protect and create jobs and identify new ways to leverage the contributions of all workers in the United States.

LIRS welcomes refugees and migrants on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating with and on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations, and for providing services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners across the United States.

If you have any questions about this statement, please feel free to contact Eric B. Sigmon, Director for Advocacy at (202) 626-7943 or via email at esigmon@lirs.org.


To read an employer verification statement from the Rev. Gerald Mansholt, Bishop of the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, click here: http://bit.ly/kkj2tw.

To read an LIRS statement on employer verification, click here: http://bit.ly/m6NYoF


[1] “Employer Verification: Federal Agencies Have Taken Steps to Improve E-Verify, but Significant Challenges Remain,” Government Accountability Office, 2010, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11146.pdf

[2] “Chairman Smith Introduces Legal Workforce Act,” News Release, Congressman Lamar Smith, June 14, 2011, http://lamarsmith.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=246558

[3] According to DHS-commissioned data, about 0.8 percent of workers receive an erroneous tentative nonconfirmation and .3 percent are able to correct those errors. Since there are currently about 154,287,000 million workers in the United States, multiplying the .5 error rate by the total number of workers results in 771,435 workers who would erroneously fired from their jobs.

[4] “Findings of the Web-Based E-Verify Program Evaluation,” Westat, 2009, www.uscis.gov/USCIS/EVerify/E-Verify/Final%20E-Verify%20Report%2012-16-09_2.pdf

[5] Dan Zak, “Stephen Colbert, in GOP Pundit Character, Testifies on Immigration in DC,” The Washington Post, September 25, 2010, www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2010/09/24/AR2010092402734.html

[6] “OSC Interventions: E-Verify,” Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Office of Special Counsel, FY 2009, http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/osc/htm/telephone_interventions/ti_e-verify.php