Crossing the border is only one way immigrants enter the country illegally. An estimated 40 percent overstay their visas and build a life in the shadows; that is where lawmakers on Capitol Hill say the E-verify system will come in.
"What brings people here is a better life with a job," Sen. John McCain,R-Ariz., said Tuesday during an appearance at the University of Southern California. McCain has long argued that if immigrants cannot get access to work, they would be less inclined to come illegally.
And as Congress continues to debate comprehensive immigration reform, both the Senate and the House have introduced measures that would require employers to use an electronic verification system to ensure a worker has legal status and is eligible for a job.
The controversial program has been called too demanding by some small business owners, but Tuesday, the National Restaurant Association and ImmigrationWorks USA, a nonpartisan immigration think tank in Washington, released a study showing that more employers are using the electronic verification system with ease than expected.
Of the more than 780 restaurant owners who were surveyed, nearly 80 percent reported that the E-Verify system yielded 100 percent accurate results for them.
And while only 23 percent of all restaurant leaders used the service to check the legal status of workers, 80 percent said that they thought it worked well enough that they would recommend it to another business owner.
The survey did, however, reveal one setback. According to the poll, once an employer begins using the E-Verify system, many reported that immigrants who are in the country illegally stopped applying for work with them. Some said that sometimes no one else stepped up to do the jobs. Nearly 35 percent of restaurant owners said that the makeup of their applicant pools changed and 11 percent reported that the change was significant. The survey comes just days after the House of Representatives released its own E-Verify bill, which would require all businesses to use the system to check a worker's eligibility for employment.
The legislation would do away with the hard copy I-9 system and usher human resources departments around the country into an age where employee verification is all done electronically within two years.
"Illegal workers compete with American workers for jobs and drive down their wages," bill sponsor Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said in a statement. "The nationwide use of E-Verify could increase wages and open up millions of jobs for unemployed and underemployed Americans. E-Verify will help ensure that jobs are reserved for citizens and legal workers."
The Senate's legislation would also bolster the use of E-Verify.
Groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the American Civil Liberty Union have long cautioned against electronically checking individual's employment eligibility citing discrimination against minorities, privacy concerns and errors in the system that they say could keep eligible workers from jobs.
"If a system is 99 percent effective that means one percent of people won't be approved. A one percent error rate is 1.5 million Americans that won't be able to work until they get their issues worked out with the government. That is a big deal," says Chris Caladrese, legislative council for the ACLU. "If you build a system that has every American's photograph in it, and can be assessed through the Internet, that may become the de facto identification system in this country. It would start with employment, but it could easily expand to travel or to gun purchases."