Participants in a Tuesday conference call hosted by the National Immigration Forum said mandatory E-Verify without immigration reform would harm the U.S. economy.

Marshall Fitz, director of the immigration policy of the Center for American Progress, said during the call that immigration-enforcement-only supporters insist on measures like mandatory E-Verify for ideological and political reasons.

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, recently announced he will introduce a bill to expand the use of E-Verify before the end of this session.

Fitz said that opponents of immigration reform are convinced that immigration problems are simply a matter of enforcement and that they represent a hardline ideological strain out of step with mainstream pragmatism. He argued that enforcement-only hardliners have deluded themselves into thinking their position is good politics, but that they are alienating the fastest-growing segment of the electorate. He said Smith is at the vanguard of this political strategy.

In a recent interview with Fox News, Smith said E-Verify is 99 percent effective, adding that it is necessary to enforce immigration law, expand E-Verify and add more border patrol.

Fitz, meanwhile, concluded that deploying mandatory E-Verify amid an undocumented workforce will lead to less government control over the underground economy, creating more enforcement challenges.

Gisella Martinez, director of legislative affairs for the National Immigration Forum explained during the call that E-Verify allows employers to introduce a worker’s information to an online system run by the Department of Homeland Security and match that information with Social Security and Homeland Security databases to determine if a worker is authorized to work.

Tyler Moran, policy director for the National Immigration Law Center, said that if mandatory E-verify is implemented without broader immigration reform it will force some workers into the cash economy outside of our tax system, ship agricultural jobs overseas, and force between 3 and 4 million American workers to stand in a government line to correct their records or lose their jobs and that 770, 000 people will likely lose their jobs because of government database errors in E-Verify.

Moran said that policy-makers like Smith are using E-Verify as part of their deportation strategy. President Obama has said he will support E-Verify in the context of a legalization program; the Senate is unlikely to take up immigration-enforcement legislation.

According to Moran, there are 8 million undocumented workers who are vital to the economy, adding that the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that mandatory E-Verify without a legalization program would result in over $17 billion in lost tax revenue over 10 years because workers and employers would move off the books. American workers would compete with a larger pool of easily exploited undocumented workers.

Moran said Arizona is the best forecast of what mandatory E-Verify would look like without a legalization program. Implemented in January 2008, there are three significant outcomes from that Arizona law: Undocumented workers did not go home and most have moved into the cash economy; employers are coaching workers about how to get around the photo screening tool, the only mechanism to address ID theft; and half of the employers are not using E-Verify for new hires despite penalties that could result in a loss of their business license.

Craig J. Regelbrugge, vice president for government relations and research at the American Nursery & Landscape Association said that mandatory E-Verify without broader solutions would have the largest impact on the agriculture and seasonal employment sectors of the economy, resulting in economic dislocation, production declines, fewer jobs, and more imports.

According to Regelbrugge, American farmers face challenges in hiring workers because jobs are seasonal, intermittent, rural, and unattractive — which is why foreign-born workers are essential to American farms. Over the last 15 years, many organized efforts to recruit Americans into farm sector work have failed.

He added that between 50 and 75 percent of hired farmworkers lack proper work authorization, saying that the Nursery & Landscape Association is not opposed to E-Verify but is not convinced it will work because it fails to detect identity theft and might lead to unprecedented rates of organized identity theft.

But if E-Verify works as its supporters say, Regelbrugge said it will suck the economic life out rural communities, screen out experienced farm employees and starve farms of the harvest hands needed.

Regelbrugge added that Georgia is already seeing the impact of the immigration-enforcement law signed there by Gov. Nathan Deal that includes mandatory E-Verify. Some growers are fearing that as many as half of the workers needed to bring in Georgia’s crops will not show up.

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