10/28/2013 05:44 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

The True Cost of the Legal Workforce Act

Given that the recent forced partial shutdown of the federal government has plunged the approval rating for Congress to nearly an all-time low, it's hard to imagine that some representatives are orchestrating yet another political folly. But immigration reform opponents are poised to do just that.

Representatives determined to block commonsense immigration reform have stalled consideration of a practical approach to reform and instead are pushing for enforcement-only "solutions," such as the Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 1772), which would require every employer in the U.S. to use E-Verify, the federal government's flawed electronic employment eligibility verification system, within two years.

In a letter sent to leaders of the House of Representatives last week, a coalition of more than 100 organizations warns that the livelihood of all workers, including U.S. citizens, will be threatened if the House proceeds with the bill. Their concern is well-founded.

If the Legal Workforce Act is enacted, between 150,000 and 500,000 U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and work-authorized noncitizens are likely to lose their jobs if they do not contact the appropriate government agency and quickly correct an error that causes E-Verify to flag them as not work-authorized.

The process for correcting errors can be complex and often requires the worker to visit a Social Security Administration (SSA) office. In one instance, a former U.S. Navy captain with high security clearance was deemed ineligible to be employed in the U.S. because of such an error. It took nearly two months of work by himself, his wife, and an attorney to resolve the error. For low-wage workers affected by such errors, wading through the red tape required to fix them will be even more burdensome. They will likely be forced to take unpaid time off of work, arrange for transportation and childcare, or have to drive long distances just to find the SSA office where the error can be corrected, and then it's likely they'll have to stand in line or wait for hours to be seen by an SSA worker. But such errors are not the only threat that E-Verify poses.

Indeed, a recent report by my organization, the National Immigration Law Center, examines recent data from a government-commissioned study and details the impact of E-Verify's use, noting that using E-Verify facilitates discrimination and makes all workers more vulnerable.

In addition to the headaches that requiring all employers in the U.S. to use E-Verify would cause for workers, it would also hurt our nation's economic bottom line. Without a fully legalized workforce, employers will resort to hiring workers off the books and outside the tax system, robbing the federal and state governments of $17.3 billion in tax revenues. The coalition that opposes mandating all employers to use E-Verify notes that it "is not a silver bullet to catch unauthorized workers; instead mandating its use will only push employers and workers further into the underground economy, as paying workers cash or misclassifying the workers is the simplest way of not complying with the bill's mandate."

Before this legislation is rushed to the House floor, our representatives should take a much closer look at E-Verify's flaws. Each error is a barrier that stands between a real person and her basic ability to work. Instead of pushing forward "solutions" such as the Legal Workforce Act, Congress should pass commonsense immigration reform that supports our country's economic vitality and ensures that no citizen or authorized immigrant loses his ability to work due to an E-Verify error.