National Restaurant Association (NRA) senior vice president of labor and workforce policy Angelo Amador testified before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security at a hearing to discuss “The Legal Workforce Act” which would create a nationally standardized employer verification (E-Verify) mandate. As the nation’s second largest private sector employer with a workforce of 14 million, a nationwide implementation of E-Verify has been one of NRA’s top priorities in the debate over immigration reform.

“For several years, the National Restaurant Association has provided input on the best ways to improve the E-Verify program,” Amador told the committee. “We believe that the Legal Workforce Act is a thoughtful, balanced approach to implementing a major change related to workplace hiring for employers of all sizes. To be sure, we do not take this attempt at change lightly. Employers in our industry, as in others, do not usually respond with eager excitement about the prospect of a new federal mandate in the workplace. So, we are especially appreciative of the bill sponsors’, and this subcommittee’s, efforts to think through the real-world implementation of a universal E-verify mandate.”

NRA and its members have been early adopters of the voluntary E-Verify program. According to an NRA survey of nearly 800 members on the use and implementation of the current E-Verify system, among all restaurant owners and operators 23 percent told surveyors they currently use E-Verify to check the immigration status of new hires. Among corporate-owned restaurants, a full 49 percent are enrolled in the system. Seventy-nine percent of restaurant operators surveyed said the E-Verify system has been 100 percent accurate, as far as they know.

However, 62 percent of the restaurant operators who are not using E-Verify said they did not enroll because they are small companies with no Human Resources professionals. Amador called on Congress to change part of a broad national mandate that would simplify the current E-Verify process and support wide-spread adoption.

“The current federal employment verification system is clearly in need of an overhaul,” said Amador. “In the current system, employers are boxed in by federal regulations that, on one side, require them to conduct the I-9 process on every person they hire and, on the other side, limit their ability to question the validity of authorization and identity documents used during that process…Out of this frustration, and the frustration caused by the federal government’s inability to move forward on the issue, many states and localities have responded with a patchwork of employment verification laws. This new patchwork of immigration enforcement laws expose employers, who must deal with a broken legal structure, to unfair liability and the burden of numerous state and local laws.”

In addition to Association-backed support of a standardized I-9 process, Amador outlined improvements needed in implementation such as toll-free telephonic option for conducting E-Verify that would not require small businesses to purchase new equipment and a tiered implementation approach with deadline extensions.

 “One of the main flaws in the current E-Verify system is the uncomplicated and elementary manner through which an undocumented alien can fool the system through the use of someone else’s documents. The issues of document fraud and identity theft are exacerbated due to the lack of reliable and secure documents acceptable under the current E-Verify system,” Amador told the committee.

In response, the Association voiced support for provisions that would rework and limit documentation to provide employers with a clear and functional way to verify prospective employees and hold the government accountable for proper administration.