Pumpkin Pie and E-Verify: Local Company Purges Unauthorized Workers

cialis times;”>By Daniel Gelman

viagra sale times;”>Thanksgiving is coming, site and it’s weighing on my conscience. Part of my personal code is to never stop renewing my gratitude for being born here. I realize that I won the “citizenship lottery,” so to speak through no merit of my own, but rather that of my grandparents. This fact makes me the envy of most of the world. Nevertheless, it is with a heavy heart but a clean conscience that I reflect on the recent purge of unauthorized workers at my local place of employment.

CC_HeadsUpE_Verify3The hospitality business where I work in Ventura County was just sold to a new franchisee. Employees had to re-apply for their jobs. Then the new employer ran our social security numbers through the federal “E-Verify” online scanning process.

According to Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service that administers the program, E-Verify checks employees’ data against millions of government records, providing results within a few seconds. It’s used nationwide by more than 500,000 employers of all sizes, including more than 1.4 million hiring sites, and joined by about 1,400 new participating companies every week. It’s been around to varying degrees for 17 years.

In most states, private employers are not required to use E-Verify. You are only required to feel that identification from an I-9 employment form “appears genuinely reasonable.” That’s according to the web site of the same agency that runs E-Verify.

If you wish, you can enroll in the IMAGE Certification Program (Mutual Agreement between government and employers), which trains employers to detect fraud through E-Verify and other tactics. Those who do are clearly taking identity detection to the next level, but it is unclear if they do this to avoid hassles, or if it stems from patriotic motivation.

Per expectations, the process wiped out our unskilled staff. Clearly previous franchisees did not use E-Verify. Those rejected have about a week to contest the findings and can presumably use the time to plan their next move. Interestingly, our staff walked out early together in protest.

I’m not sure what statement they were trying to make. They could have been pointing out the equivocation of letting them stay in the country but denying them the chance to work, or they could have been saying, “How dare you catch me.” Our workers who failed verification came from three countries: Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

SAVE_LOGO_2007_ver1aDespite this seemingly simple execution of justice, there were gray areas that tugged at the heart. One worker was in their late 30’s and had been here for 18 years. Through hard work and determination they learned English and sent their kids to a public magnet school. Ironically they also recently qualified for non-profit subsidized housing. (Public Housing authorities have something similar to E-Verify called the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE), but it seems to be used only when someone’s documents appear suspicious.)

I don’t know what kind of paper work allowed them to do those things, but I know that their kids were all born here. This was a lovely person, but I never forgot that they were not supposed to be here, living as though they were. Being lovely does not entitle one to anything but a smile.

The other was in their late 20’s and had been here almost their entire life. I spent considerable effort getting to know them. We bonded through shared experiences, a sense of humor, and a commitment to our customers. Their spouse was legal. My coworker contacted their lawyer, but apparently it was either too late or more complicated than anyone realized. One could say that justice was done. I have mixed emotions. I will miss them.

Within a day, we replaced them with workers from a temporary employment agency that does use E-Verify. It would be pretty ironic if they didn’t. At least two of the replacements were African-American and one was Hispanic. I always knew that people who predicted pandemonium if we didn’t have an illegal labor force were mistaken. Americans need work and the marketplace-of-need has a way of filling gaps.

I’ve since learned through rumors, that a couple of fired workers got new social security numbers and returned to work. I don’t know if our new company used E-Verify simply to protect themselves, or if they philosophically believe in the concept.

But here’s the glitch that most disturbs me: Unless the process includes reporting unauthorized workers to immigration officials, they will inevitably resurface at companies that don’t use E-Verify. Or they will work “under the table” without paying taxes. Either way, they won’t be going home. Although presumably the government has a record of those who failed the screening, deportation is not pursued in most cases.

The State of Arizona and the City of Costa Mesa in Orange County, California are exceptions. They do work closely with immigration officials to reduce recidivism. But E-Verify itself only verifies employment eligibility, not immigration status.

Costa Mesa is a “Rule of Law” city that prides itself on not providing sanctuary to illegal aliens. Reportedly, police in these two locations have the right to arrest people under suspicion of illegal immigration status. I believe this includes failing E-Verify, although officials from both locales ignored or denied multiple inquires on the subject for this story.

Six states, mostly in the South, but including Arizona require the use of E-Verify by most employers. It does not work retroactively on people who are already employed, except when that company takes on a federal contract, or a worker’s temporary employment status expires. Several other states require E-Verify for state workers and those contracting with the state. The Federal Government must use it for new employees and contractors.

Locally, Cheesecake factory, Islands, and Hooters are examples of voluntary E-Verify employers. The Cities of Thousand Oaks, Oxnard, and Ventura do not screen their new hires with E-Verify. Simi Valley does. None of them require it of private businesses.

Despite my fondness for some of my departed coworkers, I did notice their lack of identification with a Middle American ethic. One of them was fiery and rebellious. They solved personnel conflicts through intimidation and bullying. Others could not speak one complete sentence in English despite having been here for years. They lived quite happily and obliviously in a Spanish bubble.

That’s not to say that the average American worker is emotionally invested in American values either. But that’s all the more reason not to import a whole new batch of disaffected souls. Unfortunately, even if immigrants are legalized, no knowledge of American culture or demonstration of patriotism is required of permanent non-citizen residents.

Manual labor is hard, but it doesn’t require a uniquely righteous soul that is bestowed only upon the salt of foreign earth. Strong Americans who need the work can do our manual jobs. I’ve done them myself, even as an educated and middle aged adult.

It’s been said that, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” My company’s survival with limited inconvenience after a purge of an entire department is a living testimonial to this axiom.

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Daniel Gelman has been a Reporter/Writer for several years, specializing in News, Business, Feature, and Op-Ed.

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