May 1, 2013— -- Immigration reform won't pass without some give-and-take between Democrats and Republicans. But one of the areas where there seems to be broad bipartisan agreement is mandatory E-Verify, an electronic system that's used to determine whether an employee is eligible to work in the country legally.
Business groups have pushed back against an electronic verification system in the past, but this time around many of them support including it in a comprehensive immigration bill. Some business are using it already.
So why would business owners sign up for a government program that keeps a closer watch on whether or not you're hiring workers who are in the country legally?
We can get some insight from a survey released on Tuesday by the National Restaurant Association and ImmigrationWorks USA, a group that supports immigration reform.
The survey asked more than 700 employers in the food services industry whether they would recommend the program to other business owners. Here are some of the reasons people said they would recommend it:
"Easy, and eliminates guessing"
One reason business owners like the program is because it gives them more certainty that they're hiring someone who is in the country legally.
The downside: According to a government report looking at 2007-2008 data, the program missed 54 percent of unauthorized workers, primarily as a result of identity fraud.
That's why groups like the National Restaurant Association want a "safe harbor" provision written into an immigration reform bill. A provision like that would basically say that if a business owner has followed the steps of E-Verify, than they're not liable for an employee that isn't authorized to work.
"I like the system with a few exceptions as it gives me piece [sic] of mind, especially here in Arizona where we have an Employer Sanction Law"
Different states have different laws around hiring undocumented workers. Arizona, for example, has a law requiring employers to screen all new hires using E-Verify (even if most businesses don't comply).
The fact that there are a patchwork of such laws across the country is one of the reasons business groups support making E-Verify mandatory for everyone. The idea is that you don't want some businesses that have to comply, but not others.
"Will be an industry-wide requirement soon"
More forward-thinking business owners see the writing on the wall. Maybe they've been fined in the past for hiring undocumented workers, like Chipotle in 2011. Or maybe they just figure it's easier -- and safer, audit-wise -- to get in compliance now rather than wait. But some are ahead of the game.
"It's the right thing to do because identity theft is a problem and we should take a stand against it"
Then there are the business owners who just don't approve of a person working with someone else's documents. For those business owners, E-Verify seems like a natural step.
That doesn't mean all business owners love E-Verify. In fact, a March report by the Migration Policy Institute found that less than 10 percent of U.S. employers were participating in the program.
As the immigration debate continues, businesses will want to have their say in how the program will operate.
Angelo Amador, the vice president for labor and workforce policy at the National Restaurant Association, for example, wants an immigration bill to have provision for safe harbor, to protect employers.
So far, he's found that in a stand-alone E-Verify bill introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas). Amador also likes that the bill allows business owners to process E-Verify requests over the phone, as well as over the Internet. That makes things easier for some business owners.
"We're supporting that and we want to see how it moves forward," he said.