Markup of H.R. 1772, the "Legal Workforce Act"


Markup of H.R. 1772, the "Legal Workforce Act"

Opening Statements

Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr. for
the Markup of H.R. 1772, the "Legal Workforce Act," by the Committee on the Judiciary
Wednesday, June 26, 2013, at 11:00 a.m. 2141 Rayburn House Office Building

The Legal Workforce Act would make E-Verify – the electronic employment verification system –  mandatory for all employers.

Although E-Verify is generally considered to be an important tool, it cannot be made mandatory for all employers without comprehensive reforms to our nation's broken immigration system and without additional reforms to E-Verify itself.

Let me be clear, it is critical that we strike the right balance. For if we get this wrong, it will hurt our nation's economy, devastate farmers across the United States, and spur unemployment.

Most importantly, it makes no sense to mandate E-Verify without also implementing  comprehensive immigration reform.

We are very likely to hear today, as we have before, that E-Verify will help American workers because every time an undocumented immigrant is denied a job, an unemployed American can get hired.

Unfortunately, that is just not how it works.  Immigrants fill major gaps in our workforce.  This is particularly evident in agriculture where up to 75% of on-the-field farmworkers lack immigration status.

If E-Verify was mandated without also providing a feasible means for these farmworkers to fill essential jobs, here is what we would see:

  • farms across the nation would be forced out of business;
  • the U.S. would turn to foreign markets to import our fruits and vegetables; and
  • millions of upstream and downstream American jobs supported by agriculture would be lost.

These are consequences of the legislation that we must avoid.

We must also ensure that this legislation includes sufficient protections so that American workers are not inappropriately prohibited from working.

Admittedly, the Legal Workforce Act contains several requirements that are intended to protect American workers.

For example, the bill prohibits employers from using E-Verify until after they have extended a job offer and they must inform workers when the system deems them to be ineligible to work.  In addition, employers cannot rescind job offers or fire workers until they get a chance to fix any errors.

This is a good start, but it is not nearly enough.

For instance, the bill lacks any penalties for failing to follow these guidelines.  But, we already know from governmental and independent studies that employers who currently use the system already fail to comply with current requirements.

So, why would this be any different should E-Verify become mandatory?

Finally, the bill offers no real protections for U.S. citizens and other work-authorized individuals who are incorrectly identified by E-Verify as unauthorized to work.

Under this bill,. Such workers will be fired and their only remedy is through the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).  We all know how many procedural hurdles are involved in pursuing an FTCA claim.

  • How many Americans can afford to be out of work for 6 months while waiting for a decision on their administrative FTCA claim?
  • How many will bring a lawsuit after that administrative claim goes unanswered for 6 months?
  • And how many will actually be compensated for lost wages by proving that they erroneous nonconfirmation resulted from a "negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the government"?

I don't think any of my colleagues intends to bar an American citizen from working because Congress failed to provide sufficient due process when mandating the use of E-Verify by all employers.  But this may very well be the outcome.

In closing, I want to note that there is broad bipartisan agreement that our nation's immigration laws are broken.

But piecemeal legislation - particularly legislation that focuses only on enforcement - is not the solution we need.

Increased enforcement that fails to address the 11 million undocumented individuals already living and working in the United States hurts our nation's economy and American workers, and it does nothing to fix our broken immigration system.

I look forward to working with the chairman in addressing these concerns and I yield back the balance of my time.


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