Verifying the documentation of employees is a valuable service, not a discriminatory practice.

Trust, but verify. Ronald Reagan made this Russian proverb popular during his negotiations with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev during the Cold War.

It is also useful to characterize E-Verify, the federal government’s voluntary system for employers to verify documentation of prospective employees, to ensure they are U.S. citizens or legal immigrants authorized to work in this country.

It is something that makes so much sense, one would assume everyone would be for it.

Originally known as Basic Pilot, E-Verify got its start in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. It was first used in five states, later became available nationwide and has grown in acceptance until it is now used by more than 100,000 businesses across the country and has an accuracy rate of 99.6 percent, according to Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., one of the original backers of Basic Pilot/E-Verify.

A friend here in Maine who has E-Verify for his business tells me it is fast – needing only 10 to 15 seconds to respond – and it allows prospective employees 10 days to straighten out problems they may have with their documentation.

Identifying problems with an employee’s documentation is one benefit seen as a drawback by those who are against it.

I had an experience that showed the value of verification when I obtained my Maine driver’s license. E-Verify and the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles both access the Social Security Administration database, so the example is apt for a discussion of E-Verify.

My name, Social Security number and date of birth did not match what the SSA had on file. After getting over my ire at having to make an extra trip from Bridgton to Portland to resolve it, I ended up with a better appreciation of the security and privacy it accords the user.

If a verification process is used, such as for a license or with E-Verify, the employee knows right away of discrepancies and can straighten them out. Otherwise, the employee may find out years later, which could affect serious issues, such as Social Security payments. The longer it takes to discover a “mismatch,” the longer it will take to correct the record.

Knowing about a mismatch right away is a benefit, not a hindrance of E-Verify; many Maine businesses are using it.

Yet because of the federal government’s erratic enforcement or just plain indifference to the problems posed by illegal aliens, many states, counties, municipalities and private businesses have had to pass their own regulations and enforcement rules that include the use of E-Verify.

Arizona and South Carolina have made it mandatory, as has Columbia County in Oregon and, recently, Albertville, Ala., passed an ordinance requiring contractors to use E-Verify.

Rep. Calvert is trying to make E-Verify mandatory with a bill filed in January of this year, H.R.19, to require employers to conduct employment eligibility verification. There is another bill, H.R. 662, filed by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, which would also extend its usage and authorize additional funding.

But if E-Verify is so great, why is it so opposed by business interests, civic organizations, and legal institutions? Eleven years after its initiation, the proponents of E-Verify are still fighting an uphill battle to gain its acceptance.

The Wall Street Journal, a mouthpiece for the business community, is probably its most vocal detractor – it is content with businesses hiring illegal aliens and sees the issue of verification as detrimental to business.

The House version of the stimulus bill contained a provision making E-Verify mandatory for contractors who receive funding for stimulus projects, but it was stripped out.

Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation estimates up to 300,000 illegal aliens could be employed because the verification requirement was taken out of the bill.

So, how do our legislators stand on E-Verify?

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted to table renewing E-Verify. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe voted against tabling the program. I contacted the offices of Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud but had not yet received answers.

Not only should our legislators support E-Verify to enure that jobs in this tight employment climate go to Mainers, but it should be of extra importance to Sen. Collins because she is the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and verification is a national security issue.

Robert Casimiro of Bridgton is executive director of Mainers for Sensible Immigration Policy (MSIP). E-mail: [email protected]

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