Although the meat industry’s support for comprehensive immigration reform has not changed, “we don't want the debate to evolve into an all or nothing, politically charged proposition, especially when reauthorization and improvement of one component — the online employment verification system E-Verify — could be a big step forward,” notes AMI President and CEO J. Patrick Boyle in a guest editorial in the Austin American-Statesman.

“E-Verify is the only electronic data-based system available to ensure that employers hire only those authorized to work in the United States,” notes Boyle. And much like a merchant can swipe a credit card when a purchase is made — and that purchase is either authorized or not — E-Verify allows employers to verify the social security numbers of new employees after they are hired.

Boyle explains that the meat and poultry industry has historically been a starting point for foreign-born workers. “That is why the American Meat Institute has been an advocate of E-Verify, which only recently became available nationally. In fact, we have urged its use industry-wide for a decade and recently asked Congress to mandate its use,” he adds.

Boyle points out that movement on E-Verify is feasible because the measure has broad political coattails. He explains that for those who see immigration enforcement is a top priority, E-Verify is the cornerstone of border control, since the system prevents undocumented workers from obtaining coveted U.S. jobs, shutting off the enticement for workers to sneak into the U.S. or overstay their visas. And Americans concerned about possible discrimination against workers who might not "look or sound American" will appreciate the fact that E-Verify takes the guesswork out of the hiring process and puts the onus on the federal government.

Boyle points out that under current law, U.S. employers find themselves in a daily catch-22. Employers can be heavily fined if it's found that they hired an undocumented worker. Conversely, employers can be subject to civil rights charges if it is determined they pressed an employee too hard without cause. “E-Verify prevents both situations by taking the guesswork out of the hiring process, and offers employers a ‘safe harbor’ from such prosecutions when it becomes mandatory,” he notes.

Boyle urges movement on E-Verify with a number of fixes: “Lawmakers must address a growing number of patchwork state and local laws by passing a federal pre-emption provision; must provide a safe harbor for employers who use the system as designed; enhance its capacity to eliminate identity fraud; and must phase in the mandatory system over several years to allow small and medium-sized companies time to make necessary adjustments,” he adds.