There hasn't been a lot of talk on Capitol Hill this year about illegal immigration reform. The focus of Congress and the media focus instead has been on bailouts, so-called stimulus plans, and now the trillion-dollar health care bill.
However, illegal immigration remains one of the greatest threats facing our nation today. America's borders remain porous and the influx of illegal immigrants continues to threaten our homeland security and economic security.
There are more than 12 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States, with more crossing the border illegally each day. This alarming number highlights the flaws and holes in America's current illegal immigration control policies.
Our government has no way to identify and track these illegal entrants, and therefore no way to know which ones are terrorists and which ones are laborers seeking illegal work. I believe that the fundamental responsibility of the federal government is to protect our nation and defend our sovereignty. Clearly this is a task we have failed and must swiftly correct.
Because the last several sessions of Congress failed to come to a consensus and implement a common-sense immigration plan, we should at least take advantage of incremental reforms with proven success. Such needed reforms include finally securing our nation's borders and improving the electronic employment verification system.
Successful reforms start with prevention: prevention at the border, and prevention at the workplace. If we make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to break the law by entering our workforce, then there will be one less incentive for them to cross the border in the first place.
Strengthening our electronic employment verification program is one step we can take to restore the rule of law and prevent the displacement of American workers. E-Verify is an Internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration. The system allows participating employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of their newly hired employees.
The Basic Pilot program began in November 1997 and now has been extended several times. Three weeks ago, another extension was needed for the E-Verify program to remain in existence.
Following the latest extension, I thought there was no better time to strengthen the electronic employment verification system. This is why I introduced the IMPROVES (Improving Methods to Promote Regular Occurrences of the Verification of Employability Status) E-Verify Act of 2009.
The IMPROVES Act makes several needed improvements to the E-Verify program and finally makes it permanent.
Improvements included in my bill include permitting the prescreening of prospective employees to let businesses confirm an individual's work eligibility before beginning to pay or train him or her. Currently, employers are not allowed to check the work eligibility of an individual until after they are hired, potentially costing businesses thousands of dollars in training, salary and other costs.
My bill also allows an employer to screen current employees and provides immunity to employers who legally use the program. This will make the program more attractive by ensuring that American businesses that are using this free and voluntary program are not held liable.
Additionally, my IMPROVES act will deny protection for businesses that knowingly use the program fraudulently. Any employer who knowingly provides or accepts fraudulent documentation regarding immigration status must pay an enhanced civil penalty of at least $200 and not more than $2,000 for each individual violation.
In hopes of restoring the rule of law, and protecting our schools, communities and emergency rooms, I hope the speaker of the House will consider incremental reforms like my IMPROVES Act.
(U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, M.D., represents Georgia's 10th Congressional District.)
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