Senator Jeff Sessions

News Releases

WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke on the Senate floor last night about his E-Verify amendment to the unemployment bill. Sessions’ remarks, as prepared, follow:

“Madam President, we are in the midst of a debate about extending unemployment insurance for millions of Americans who have been out of work for a long time.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of Americans who want to work but have stopped searching is 3.1 million. Over 91 million Americans are outside of the labor force entirely. According to a recent report in CNN Money:

‘Only about 63% of Americans over the age of 16 participate in the job market—meaning they either have a job or are looking for one. That’s nearly the lowest level since 1978, driven partly by Baby Boomers retiring, but also by workers who had simply given up hope after long and fruitless job searches.’

Yet, at the same time, this administration has engaged in a systematic dismantling of the protections our immigration laws afford American workers, producing lower wages and higher unemployment. In fact, our review of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s published statistics for 2013 reveals that under the guise of setting ‘priorities,’ the administration has determined that almost anyone in the world who can enter the United States is free to illegally live, work and claim benefits here as long as they are not caught committing a felony or other serious crime. This applies not only to those who unlawfully entered through the border, but also those who enter on a legal visa and then don’t leave when that visa expires.

The President and members of Congress are arguing for an historic surge in legal immigration. The White House preposterously claims that an influx of new, mostly lesser-skilled workers will raise wages, a conclusion not supported by any credible academic evidence or even CBO’s own report on the massive Senate comprehensive immigration bill. The CBO concluded that the bill would add 46 million mostly lesser-skilled legal immigrants by 2033 and that average wages would fall for a dozen years if it became law. And now the House is considering various proposals to bring in hundreds of thousands of guest workers.

Dr. George Borjas at Harvard has found that high immigration levels from 1980 to 2000 resulted in a 7.4% drop in wages for American workers without a high school degree—or almost $250 a month. There is a reason why workers earning $30,000 support a reduction in net immigration levels by a three to one margin.

Average household income has fallen steadily since 1999 and only 59% of U.S. adults are now working. Many African-American youths looking for work cannot find a job. We don’t have a shortage of workers in this country—we have a shortage of jobs.

The president’s own economic advisor, Gene Sperling (former Director of the National Economic Council) even recognizes this, saying recently that ‘our economy still has three people looking for every [one] job.’ Majority Leader Reid has cited that statistic on the Senate floor as well.

My amendment, the ‘Accountability through Electronic Verification Act,’ is a proven way to help out of work Americans. This legislation was introduced in this Congress by Senators Grassley, and cosponsored by myself and Senators Boozman, Corker, Enzi, Fischer, Hatch, Johanns, Lee, Vitter, and Wicker.

This legislation would permanently authorize and expand the E-Verify program, a simple web-based tool that allows employers to maintain a legal workforce by verifying the work eligibility of employees. E-Verify works by checking data against records maintained by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. It is quick and easy.

Although in 1986, Congress made it unlawful for employers to knowingly hire or employ illegal aliens, these laws have never been fully enforced. Under current law, if the documents provided by an employee reasonably appear to be genuine, then the employer has met its obligation.

Incidentally, shortly after the 1986 amnesty was passed, Assistant to President Obama and Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Munoz, who was then a Senior Policy Analyst of La Raza, led the charge to undo these enforcement provisions. She authored a report for La Raza entitled ‘Unfinished Business: The Immigration Reform & Control Act of 1986,’ in which she argued that Congress has a ‘moral obligation’ to “repeal employer sanctions” and that workplace enforcement is ‘inherently discriminatory.    

Because identity theft and counterfeit documents became a thriving industry after the 1986 amnesty, Congress created the E-Verify program in 1996. Employers required to use E-Verify include the Federal government, certain federal contractors, and employers of certain immigrant students. The program is voluntary and free for all employers to use and has been very successful. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in Fiscal Year 2012, 98 percent of queries resulted in a confirmation of work eligibility immediately or within 24 hours. According to a January 2013 USCIS Customer Satisfaction Survey, E-Verify received an 86 out of 100 in the American Customer Satisfaction Index Scale. That is 19 points higher than the customer satisfaction rating for the overall federal government.

This legislation would make the program mandatory for all employers within one year of enactment.

This legislation would also increase penalties for employers who do not use the system when mandated, or continue to illegally hire undocumented workers.

Employers would be required to check the status of current employees within three years, and would be permitted to run a check prior to offering someone a job. Employers would also be required to re-check those workers whose authorization is about to expire, such as those who come to the United States on temporary work visas.

This legislation would require employers to terminate the employment of those found unauthorized to work due to a check through E-Verify, and would reduce employers’ potential liability for wrongful terminations if they participate in E-Verify.

The legislation would also establish a demonstration project in a rural area or area without internet capabilities to assist small businesses in complying.

This legislation also addresses identity theft concerns by ensuring that the Social Security Administration catches multiple uses of Social Security numbers. And, for victims of identity theft, this legislation would amend the federal criminal code to clarify that identity fraud is punishable regardless of whether the defendant had knowledge of the victim. This provision addresses a 2009 Supreme Court decision holding that identity theft requires proof that the individual knew the number being used belong to an actual person.

E-Verify has been proven to deter employers from hiring illegal workers and will help to put Americans back on the payrolls. A number of states have already enacted E-Verify laws with great results.

According to a 2013 Bloomberg Government Study entitled ‘Early Evidence Suggests E-Verify Laws Deter Hiring of Unauthorized Workers’:

‘Soon after E-Verify laws were signed in Arizona, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina, unauthorized workers in specific industries appeared to drop off employer payrolls. This prompted employers in many cases to fill positions with authorized workers.’

With respect to my state, Alabama, the Bloomberg study says:

‘Employment trended lower immediately after the law was enacted. Employers then added more crop production workers in the months before [Alabama’s immigration law] took effect, when compared with the same period the year before. That growth in production jobs was among the largest in the nation. This study hypothesizes that authorized hires probably filled the jobs of unauthorized workers who had left the state.

Regarding South Carolina’s law, the study says:

‘The number of crop production workers fell… And then hiring surged as the law took effect in 2012. Farmers say they added workers because their normal labor supply vanished.’

The study also found that: ‘the state’s commercial bakery industry had been losing workers, then gained them as E-Verify took effect.’

The study, which is based on research from the Pew Hispanic Center, goes on to say that:

‘The abrupt shifts in employment across multiple industries convey a similar narrative: soon after E-Verify laws are adopted, workers drop off employer payrolls and, in a number of industries, new hires fill those vacant positions. The robustness of this effect reinforces the likelihood that this phenomenon is due to something other than chance.’

Our goal must be to help struggling Americans move from dependency to independence, to help them find good and steady jobs with rising pay. Making E-Verify permanent and requiring all employers to use it is one simple thing that we can do to work towards that goal. Our policy cannot be to simply relegate more and more of our citizens to dependence on the government while importing a steady stream of foreign workers to fill available jobs. That is not in the interests of our country or its people.

One need not look far to see that there are Americans willing to work:

Syracuse.com, January 8, 2014: ‘In Syracuse, thousands showed up for the Destiny USA job fair on June 14, 2012. More than 50 employers interviewed candidates for roughly 1,600 jobs.’

On January 29, 2013, a FOX affiliate in Atlanta reported: ‘Northside Hospital held a job fair Wednesday, but had to call it off early due to the overwhelming number of people that showed up looking for work. The hospital was hoping to fill 500 jobs.’

On May 17, 2013, news outlets in Philadelphia reported: ‘More than 3,700 job seekers overwhelmed the Municipal Services Building in Center City for a job fair Friday morning intended for ex-offenders… The city anticipated a big crowd and therefore doubled the staff to handle the response, but the crowd was still too big to handle—forcing the event to be cancelled and leaving hundreds on the plaza outside.’

On May 20, 2013, the New York Times reported in an article entitled, ‘Camping out for five days, in hopes of a union job,’ the following: ‘The men began arriving last Wednesday, first a trickle, then dozens. By Friday there were hundreds of them, along with a few women. They set up their tents and mattresses on the sidewalk in Long Island City, Queens… and settled in to wait as long as five days and nights for a slender chance at a union job as an elevator mechanic… There were more than 800 by sun-up Monday… The union accepts 750 applications for the 150 to 200 spots in its four-year apprenticeship program.’” 

[NOTE: To view video of Sen. Sessions’ floor speech, please click here.]