National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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The No-Work List

April 18, 2008 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin

On April 17th, the New York Times had an editorial urging readers who are working or who would like to work to follow the debate now taking place in Congress over employment verification.  The SAVE Act (H.R. 4088), introduced by Heath Shuler (D-NC) and the New Employee Verification Act (H.R. 5515), sponsored by Sam Johnson (R-TX) would transfer the concept of the “no-fly” list to the workplace:

It starts with a flawed database that everyone would have to rely on to get work or change jobs. Think of the “no-fly” list, the database of murky origins with mysterious flaws that you, the passenger, must fix if you are on it and want to fly. These immigration bills seek to take small, badly flawed “no-work” lists and explode them rapidly to a national scale. With an error rate of about 4 percent, millions of citizens could be flagged as ineligible to work, too. – New York Times, Immigration, Off the Books

The flawed databases, for airline passengers, have prevented some from getting on with their travel plans. The “no-work” list would prevent many from getting on with their ability to make a living.  For the privilege, we will be spending $40 billion over ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The problem with requiring all employers to use an electronic database system, as the Times notes, is that the bills “don’t fix the database errors first, and they are strict enforcement-only measures, uncoupled from any path to legalization for undocumented workers.”

Without any provision to legalize undocumented workers who now compose five percent of the U.S. total labor force, American workers will be dealt a double blow: a computer glitch will keep some from working until they get the government to fix their record, and wages will be undercut as employers pay undocumented workers off the books.

Protecting American workers, the Times notes,

means, at the very least, fixing the employment database before beginning a huge, untested worker-verification experiment and imposing it only as part of a broader reform that allows the eight million undocumented workers to become legal. Otherwise, we would be giving countless employers and workers the incentive to go off the books, which would be exactly where we started, billions of dollars and countless lost jobs ago.

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