ACLU resistance to E-Verify mandate both puzzling, indefensible

Article subtitle: 
Using the electronic documents database would dispel employer hiring bias and decisively discourage illegal behavior.
Article author: 
Jonette Christian
Article publisher: 
Portland Press Herald
Article date: 
7 December 2018
Article category: 
National News
Article Body: 

Many in Congress hope to secure legal protections for so-called “Dreamers” during the lame duck session by supporting President Trump’s border wall. But instead of wasting money on the wall, lawmakers should mandate the nationwide use of E-Verify and keep the next group of Dreamers from forming.

In 1986 Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. But the legislation, which established the I-9 process, not only failed to turn off the jobs magnet fueling illegal migration, but also incentivized racial profiling and made it virtually impossible for prosecutors to go after miscreant employers. Mandatory E-Verify – electronic document verification – for all employers would fix these problems. But it has a surprising foe with deep pockets: the American Civil Liberties Union.

Under the I-9 process, employees submit ID and work authorization documents to employers who are expected, without training, to judge the records’ validity. As a result, the Government Accountability Office estimated in 1990, 10 percent of employers were carrying out “national origins discrimination” – in other words, not hiring foreign-looking people.

Indeed, one-third of Latinos report job discrimination based on their ethnicity, but there’s no mechanism for employee appeal under I-9. And employers who knowingly cheat the system are rarely prosecuted, in part because there’s no requirement to retain supporting documents. As the Migration Policy Institute put it: “Bad-faith employers are able to shield themselves from sanctions by going through the motions of compliance.”

E-Verify would replace I-9. I-9 has the employer use their judgment (and biases) to determine eligibility; E-Verify computer matches names and Social Security numbers. I-9 has no requirement for document retention; E-Verify creates a permanent employer record. I-9 has no appeal process; E-Verify provides contact information to rectify records.

E-Verify is free, accurate and far less susceptible to racial discrimination, and employers report they’re more likely to hire immigrants using E-Verify. And it’s a lot cheaper than building a wall. Why doesn’t Congress pass it?

Powerful lobbies want illegal immigration to continue. It doesn’t make sense for the ACLU to align itself with them – but the group has pulled out all the stops, suing states and using hyperbole, fear-mongering and misinformation to sow ignorance and confusion.

The ACLU claims that E-Verify gives the police the right to determine who gets employed. Really? The police? The group claims that E-Verify is expensive, yet multiple business groups support it. The ACLU charges that E-Verify will keep hundreds of thousands of people from working. Twenty-six million job applicants were vetted through E-Verify last year alone. If hordes of unemployables exist, the ACLU should instigate a class action suit on their behalf.

Why does an organization that claims to care about racial discrimination target an electronic system that would decisively discourage illegal behavior?

Here’s one possibility. Since Anthony Romero took the helm in 2001, the ACLU has seen internal strife, with some board members incensed by his cutting deals with major donors without board approval. One of those donors, hedge fund billionaire David Gelbaum, personally funded 25 percent of the ACLU’s annual budget.

Gelbaum’s donations to the Sierra Club (totaling over $200 million), along with his threat that he would not donate another dollar if the organization turned “anti-immigrant,” coincided with the club’s sudden reversal of its decades-old position advocating immigration moderation to achieve U.S. population stabilization. There is no public disclosure of strings attached to any of Gelbaum’s donations, but money of that magnitude clearly talks.

Romero’s response to his critics included a proposed gag order of board members and destruction of board meeting recordings. Both ideas were dropped when they became public; Romero’s board critics were ousted.

The Obama administration required E-Verify for all federal contractors. We urge the ACLU to reconsider its resistance to E-Verify, follow in Obama’s footsteps and support Congress in passing mandatory E-Verify for all employers. Let’s end the jobs magnet.


Jonette Christian of Holden, a member of Mainers for Sensible Immigration Policy