Mr. President. I come to the floor today to discuss
the bipartisan employment verification system amendment that Senators
Grassley, Kennedy, Kyl, and I have introduced.
One of the central components of immigration reform
is enforcement, and this bill contains a number of important provisions
to beef up border security. But that's not enough. Real enforcement
also means drying up the pool of jobs that encourages illegal immigration.
And that can only happen if employers don't hire illegal workers.
Unfortunately, our current employer enforcement system does little
to nothing to deter illegal immigrants from finding work.
Overall, the number of workplace arrests of illegal
immigrants fell from 17,552 in 1997 to 451 in 2002, even as illegal
immigration grew during that time. Moreover, between 25% to 40%
of all undocumented immigrants are people who have overstayed their
visas. And the only way to effectively deter overstays is to reduce
access to employment.
When Congress last passed an immigration bill in
1986, we didn't provide a meaningful way for employers to check
legal eligibility to work. Currently, employees can prove their
legal status by showing a variety of documents, and employers are
supposed to record their inspection of such documents by filling
out an I-9 form for each employee. As a result, the market for fraudulent
documents -- fake Social Security cards, driver's licenses, birth
certificates - has exploded.
But, with more than 100 million employees in more
than 6 million workplaces, and only about 788 Wage and Hour investigators,
employer sanctions have become merely a nuisance requirement to
maintain records, not a serious risk of penalties. As a result,
the number of "intent to fine" notices issued to employers
for hiring undocumented workers dropped from 417 in 1999 to just
three in 2004.
Understandably, employers cannot always detect forged
documents. And employers who reject workers with questionable documents
risk an employment discrimination suit.
That's why we need a better alternative. We need
an electronic verification system that can effectively detect the
use of fraudulent documents, significantly reduce the employment
of illegal workers, and give employers the confidence that their
workforce is legal.
When Congress first considered comprehensive immigration
reform in April, the legislation on the floor addressed this problem
by creating a national employment eligibility verification system.
Senators Grassley, Kyl, and I all thought that was a good idea in
theory, but we had concerns with the design of the system.
Senators Grassley and Kyl proposed that the verification
system be implemented nationally within 18 months.
Senators Kennedy and I proposed that the system
be phased in over five years but that it also include additional
accuracy and privacy standards, as well as strict prohibitions on
use of the system to discriminate against workers.
For the past few weeks, our staffs have worked together
in a bipartisan effort to negotiate a substitute that took the concerns
of both proposals into consideration. I'm pleased that we've reached
Under our compromise amendment, all employers would
have to participate 18 months after the Department of Homeland Security
receives the appropriations needed to fund the system. All new employees
hired would have to be run through the system, and a series of privacy
and accuracy standards would protect citizens and legal immigrants
from errors in the system and breaches of private information.
And to make sure that employers take the system
seriously, we strengthen civil penalties for employers who hire
unauthorized workers, and we establish criminal penalties for repeat
We've worked in a constructive, bipartisan manner
to design an employment verification system that is fair to legal
workers and tough on illegal workers. This is a good amendment,
and I urge my colleagues to support it.