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As E-Verify becomes an immigration issue, restaurants weigh in

April 30, 2013|By Alana Semuels
  • Restaurateur Raymond Moon in Temecula opposed an E-Verify ordinance that required business owners to electronically check the authenticity of worker documents.
Restaurateur Raymond Moon in Temecula opposed an E-Verify ordinance that… (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)

As Congress continues to discuss comprehensive immigration reform, one of the biggest issues businesses are watching is E-Verify, an online system that checks workers' immigration status. The House version of the bill would make E-Verify mandatory for businesses, as it already is in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.

Since its inception in 1996, E-Verify has been criticized for being a burden to business — it provided inaccurate results and was too difficult to use for many small businesses focusing on day-to-day operations. But the program may be improving, according to a survey by the National Restaurant Assn. and ImmigrationWorks USA, which discusses immigration reform with businesses.

“You’re seeing wide adoption by a wide array of different kinds of restaurants,” said Tamar Jacoby, the president of ImmigrationWorks USA. “Four or five years ago, these numbers would have been unthinkable.”

Though some applicants said they used the system because they were required to by their states, nearly two-thirds of companies said they enrolled voluntarily. About 80% said they’d recommend it to a colleague. Nearly 80% said the system had been completely accurate.

But there is a catch, said Angelo Amador, vice president of labor and workforce quality at the National Restaurant Assn. Once workers hear that E-Verify is in place at certain restaurants, those who don’t have proper documentation no longer apply, which can sometimes lead to labor shortages.

About 11% of restaurateurs said their pool of job applicants had changed significantly since they implemented E-Verify, and 34% said the pool had changed somewhat.

That’s why “we need to make a legal immigrant workforce available,” Jacoby said.

Labor and business leaders cleared a hurdle last month when they reached a compromise on low-wage immigrant workers, perhaps allowing more workers into the country.

Still, there are many groups that do not support E-Verify, including the ACLU, which has been a vocal opponent of the program. Errors in E-Verify keep people from working, the system is vulnerable to identity theft and it’s too expensive, Chris Calabrese said in a recent ACLU blog post about the issue. Calabrese is particularly concerned about a provision that would make states include driver's license photos in E-Verify.

“Moves to mandatory E-Verify will create a bureaucracy and privacy risk that will affect us all,” he wrote.

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