Kansas urged to rethink immigration proposals

Electronic verification system called 'not ready for prime time'

? Republicans and Democrats in the Kansas Legislature say the best way to take a bite out of illegal immigration is to punish employers who hire workers who are not supposed to be here.

“There are problems here that need to be addressed in the Kansas workplace,” said House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney, D-Greensburg.

But business officials in Oklahoma, which recently adopted what many say is the toughest anti-illegal immigration law in the country, say Kansas legislators should rethink their proposals.

“Be very, very cautious before going into this minefield,” said Mike Seney, senior vice president for operations at the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce. “There is a reason for a federal pre-emption on this.”

Seney said Oklahoma businesses are seeking to repeal portions of the Sooner State’s law – even before sanctions against businesses are set to kick in.

One of the problems, Seney said, is that the Oklahoma law requires businesses to register and use the federal government’s electronic verification program, known as E-verify. It allows employers to access federal databases to verify whether a person is a citizen or legally in the country and eligible to work.

Proposals before the Kansas Legislature would do the same.

But Seney said E-verify has problems.

“For a company that does a lot of hiring or has a lot of turnover, it’s going to be cumbersome, and sometimes it’s not accurate,” Seney said.

If someone is denied employment because of an error, “then you have a problem with possible discrimination lawsuits,” he said.

The National Immigration Law Center says errors are common in the E-verify system because of inaccurate federal records. And the potential exists that the program would be susceptible to privacy and security lapses, the center says.

“It’s not ready for prime time,” said Tyler Moran, employment policy director for the immigration law center. “It has been proven over and over again by independent studies to have some pretty significant weaknesses.”

But in a House Democratic proposal, if an employer uses E-verify, it can be used as a defense to show the employer made a good-faith effort to not hire an undocumented worker.

“It’s the best we have,” state Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, said of E-verify. “It’s available, and I’m sure over time it will improve.”

Legislators also have said the E-verify requirement won’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2009, which should give employers plenty of time to familiarize themselves with the program, and time for the federal government to improve it.

But Moran said the federal government established this system more than 10 years ago, and it still has serious problems.

She said the best way to solve immigration problems is for the Congress and President Bush – not the states – to deal with the issue.