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story.lead_photo.caption U.S. Sens. John Boozman, left, and Tom Cotton are shown in these file photos.

WASHINGTON -- While President Donald Trump is making his case for a wall along the country's southern border, U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman, both Republicans from Arkansas, tout a smaller, simpler, high-tech immigration fix.

A mandatory electronic employment verification system, they say, would slow the flood of illegal immigration into the United States.

But leaders in the agriculture community warn it would also drive up food prices and lower productivity.

The E-Verify system already exists, although its services are unavailable because of the partial government shutdown. Authorized by a 1996 immigration law, E-Verify is run by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Social Security Administration.

Use of the system is optional in Arkansas and most other states. It's mandatory, however, for federal contractors and vendors.

Businesses are increasingly relying on E-Verify, which allows them to use the Internet to determine if a job applicant is entitled to work in the United States.

In 2001, there were just 1,064 employers using the system. That figured climbed to 88,244 in 2008 and topped 745,633 in 2017.

[RELATED: Trump visits Texas border, insists building wall only solution]

In an interview Thursday, Cotton said the online system is inexpensive to operate and its error rate is "extremely low."

"It's very effective in stopping illegal immigration," the lawmaker from Dardanelle said.

Rather than the slower, more mistake-prone paper-based system, E-Verify provides correct answers quickly, Cotton said.

"If we had a nationwide mandatory E-Verify [system], the word would get out pretty quickly to those countries whose citizens right now are streaming across our border," he said. "If they learn in their home countries that every job they pursue, there's going to be an effective and immediate electronic verification system, they'll be less likely to cheat the system and come here in the first place; more likely to do the right thing and ... seek to come here either on a visa or to get a green card."

Efforts to make the system mandatory face opposition from some agriculture organizations.

The "Farm Bureau opposes any mandate on employers to use E-Verify until an acceptable agriculture worker program is in place that provides for future flow of guest workers and allows work authorization for workers not currently authorized," said Matt King, Arkansas Farm Bureau's director of public affairs and government relations. "A Farm Bureau-commissioned study shows enforcement-only immigration reform, including mandatory E-Verify, would cause production to drop by $60 billion and food prices to rise 5 [percent] to 6 percent."

Both Cotton and Boozman say there's a crisis brewing on the border. They both back the president's request for billions of dollars in additional funding for the wall.

Trump has raised the possibility that he'll use his emergency powers to build the wall without congressional approval.

Cotton said he hasn't "explored in detail what [Trump] means."

"The president has certain emergency powers under law so it would be a question of law and fact on how he declares that emergency and I would evaluate it on the merits then," he added.

Boozman said he hopes that route isn't necessary.

"I view it as a last resort," he said. "I'd like us to exhaust everything else first."

In an interview Thursday, Boozman said mandatory electronic verification would help ease the border problem.

"If people aren't hiring the people that are here illegally then they're not going to come because the work's not here," the lawmaker from Rogers said.

Simplicity is key, he said. "A simple system like E-Verify with minimal hassle for the employer would be, I think, an excellent step forward," he added.

That's a view shared by Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

The Washington-based think tank describes itself as "low-immigration, pro-immigrant."

"Clearly, mandatory E-Verify is the single most important step to reducing illegal immigration because it would address not just illegal border crossers but people overstaying visas as well and make it more difficult for them to find work. Weakening the magnet of jobs is one of the key steps to controlling illegal immigration," he said.

Mireya Reith, co-founder of the Arkansas United Community Coalition, said it's premature to debate mandatory electronic verification.

The immigrants-rights group she leads favors a broader discussion, she said.

"There's a thirst and an urgency that we're all hearing and we're all feeling to talk about immigration reform. But let's not, in this shutdown moment, try and rush any conversation. Let's get out of the shutdown politics ... so we can have these conversations and look at all the angles and really have thoughtful legislation," she said.

Legislation mandating electronic verification stalled in the House last year. Co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. French Hill, Rick Crawford and Bruce Westerman, it also would've created a new agriculture guest worker program. U.S. Rep. Steve Womack also backs electronic verification, his spokesman said. The four representatives are Republicans from Arkansas.

Rebekah Hoshiko, a spokesman for Westerman, said he favors mandatory electronic verification "provided it is part of a broader immigration reform package that solves larger issues."

Metro on 01/11/2019

Print Headline: Boozman, Cotton back Internet system to verify workers


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Archived Comments

  • jlk123
    January 11, 2019 at 9:11 a.m.

    Sounds great for a start, and use it to vote also but still need to be sure they can't qualify for welfare instead of working. Also need wall though because some liberal judge or sanctuary city will prevent them being sent back when they once step om U.S. soil even if they arent here legaly.

  • jlk123
    January 11, 2019 at 9:15 a.m.

    skeptic, it needs to be require instead of allow to use the e verify.

  • Smaesel
    January 11, 2019 at 9:21 a.m.

    If it addressed all workers. I had my roof replaced and every single worker was fresh from Guatemala that week. I did not find out until they were finished with the job. Many businesses use contract labor and have no verification of employees. I lived on Kanis Road, where they are widening the street, and you could not speak to the workers because none of them spoke English. I doubt they were citizens, merely contract labor. They were all from the same country. Fresh.

  • RBear
    January 11, 2019 at 9:39 a.m.

    skeptic when you don't complete your homework assignment you'll be chastised. It's as simple as that.

  • GeneralMac
    January 11, 2019 at 10:50 a.m.

    SMAESAL......."many businesses use contract labor"

    and those places many times call all their e mployees "independant contractors" to avoid requirements of employers.

    THAT loophole needs to be looked at.

  • Packman
    January 11, 2019 at 11:26 a.m.

    Hey RBear - Hell has frozen over because I agree with you. It would address the concerns my landscape guy raised about foreign trespassers taking work from American citizens in industries using general laborers. Now, can we agree to do away with sanctuary cities and states?

  • FireEyes
    January 11, 2019 at 11:32 a.m.

    I definitely support these 2 and this system. It's been around for a long time and should be used by ALL employers.

    As to the 'geniuses' on here talking about traitors, when you support hard time or the chair for Killary, Slick Willie, and the Kenyan, you might have something valid to say but not until.

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    January 11, 2019 at 11:40 a.m.

    everify wont let a felon rake leaves.
    hell with you nazi collaborators. you slave mongers.
    people deserve a second chance not homelessness or death.
    you really should take a second look at how your guilds and your "free" masons have set up shop.
    its disgusting that you DONT want less criminals, CRIMINALS MAKE YOU MORE MONEY!

  • RBear
    January 11, 2019 at 11:51 a.m.

    Barefoot apparently you have no clue about e-Verify. This is not the same as a background check. Felons who have authorization to work in the US would pass an e-Verify check. What the heck are you talking about?

  • pkj01
    January 11, 2019 at 11:54 a.m.

    Not a fan of those two dudes, but I agree with them on this. Make the E-verify system mandatory for all employers. I believe if you read the details of the system, you will find there are requirements regarding sub-contractors which keep it from being an "easy out" for some employers. If we really want to stop illegal immigration, we should enforce this, not build a stupid wall.