THE BLOG
06/02/2010 11:40 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Immigration Reform Is About Jobs, Not Walls or Fences

There's been a lot of noise generated recently by the new enforcement law in Arizona. At the same time -- coincidentally, actually -- debate over immigration reform has resumed in earnest on Capitol Hill, and Congress seems poised to consider that issue again.

If that's true, maybe this time we can get it right. Maybe we can stop wasting time and energy talking about walls, and fences, and police stops. Because it's all about jobs.

Illegal immigrants don't take the risks they do to enter this country because they want to be closer to the Dodgers or have easier access to pizza. They want jobs. That's the magnet.

As Bruce Morrison, former chair of the House Subcommittee on Immigration, wrote recently in the Washington Post, "The principal attraction for illegal immigrants is jobs. So preventing unauthorized employment is the linchpin of a pro-American immigration system."

Let's remind ourselves of two important and related points: 1.) Physically sorting out the nation's 12 million illegal immigrants who are Hispanic from the 40 million Hispanics who are legal residents is a fantasy. 2.) No border wall or fence is high or broad enough to stop illegal immigration.

What relates those points is what's common to both -- the jobs that are available on this side of the wall or fence. Jobs will hold the people who are already here illegally, and irresistibly attract those on the other side.

Most Americans want some sort of immigration control. A new poll that the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and National Journal conducted with the Pew Research Center last week found that the majority of Americans ranked jobs (81 percent) and action on immigration (59 percent) as very important for Congress to address. But they're also averse to drastic measures to remove immigrants working here now.

George Will (Washington Post, 5/2) , referring to those 12 million illegal immigrants (60 percent of whom have been here for more than five years), said Americans won't tolerate the police methods that would be needed to round up and deport the equivalent of the population of Ohio. He estimated it would take a bumper-to-bumper bus convoy of 200,000 buses stretching 1,700 miles.

The answer isn't draconian police measures or walls so big they could only be computer-created in a Steven Spielberg movie. The answer is effective document and identity verification. Make jobs available to only legal applicants. Then, only legal residents will stay, and only legal visitors will arrive.

Those of us in the HR profession aren't big fans of E-Verify, the voluntary federal program for document verification that is rapidly becoming mandatory. This government endorsement comes despite a federal study showing that E-Verify can fail nearly two thirds of the time. What brings it down is the growing sophistication of bogus documents, plus stolen identities.

SHRM, which has 250,000 members and is the world's largest HR organization, agrees with Rep. Morrison that the answer is the proposed New Employee Verification Act (NEVA). Those such as Congressmen Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Paul Ryan (R-WI) support NEVA because it provides a reliable system for both document verification and identity authentication.

It's time to have a robust and inclusive debate about immigration that's based on facts and equity for everyone, not fear and partisan politics. And let's celebrate that the U.S. is still seen as a land of opportunity, hope -- and fairness.