This week’s arrests of nearly 600 immigrant workers at a manufacturing plant in Laurel, Ms., are provoking debate over a federal system to check new hires’ work documents, a program whose expansion the Bush administration has made a cornerstone of its fight against illegal immigration, reports the Washington Post. In the largest immigration sweep at a single site in U.S. history, federal agents raided a Howard Industries electrical transformer plant Monday despite the fact that the company last year joined the work eligibility system, E-Verify.
The White House has called the program a key weapon against illegal hiring, proposing to expand it to nearly 200,000 government contractors this fall, covering about 4 million U.S. workers. Thirteen state legislatures have enacted similar legislation, and Congress is debating whether to extend E-Verify this fall. U.S. employers assailed the expanding crackdown, saying it creates a Catch-22. If businesses fail to enroll in E-Verify, they run the risk of a raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. If they sign up, they face added costs, labor disruptions and discrimination complaints — as well as the risk that flaws in the program won’t stop all illegal hiring or prevent government raids, they said. A key weakness in E-Verify is that while it can determine if a Social Security number presented by a worker is valid, it often cannot determine whether the number belongs to the applicant. Many workers try to evade detection by using another person’s identification.