United States Commission on Immigration Reform

Testimony of Harold Ezell
President, The Ezell Group, Inc.
Member, U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform
Before the House of Representatives

Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities
February 22, 1996

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, I want to thank you for inviting me to testify here today, and I also want to welcome you--those of you who are not Californians--to the State of California. I know that Randy Cunningham agrees with me that it is a good thing when committees of the Congress come back to the rest of the nation to see the effects of the policies which you enact in our behalf. It is especially fitting that you are here in San Diego to examine immigration policies. We all hope that you learn something while you are here, and all of us Californians will be glad to help you in that endeavor.

My name is Harold Ezell. I am President of the Ezell Group, which is an international financial and business consulting firm based in Newport Beach. Years ago, I founded a chain of restaurants, so I have considerable real-world business experience. Based in part on that experience, President Ronald Reagan appointed me to be Western Regional Commissioner for the INS. While I was Western Commissioner, we implemented the Immigration Reform and Control Act, including both the amnesty provisions and sanctions on employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens.

I left the INS after the Reagan administration to return to the private sector--gratefully--but I have stayed active in the immigration debate. In 1992, the House Republican Leadership appointed me to serve on the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, which is a bipartisan Congressional advisory commission. It is important to hear that word "bipartisan," because immigration isn't a partisan political issue. All of the Commission's recommendations have been unanimous, or with only one dissenter. This from a nine-member Commission with Reagan Republicans and Tip O'Neill Democrats on it, who don't agree on anything--except on how important it is to preserve our heritage as a nation of immigrants dedicated to the rule of law.

The American people are fed up with illegal immigration. It is against the law, and I would remind you that every one of us who has served in public office takes an oath to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed. If thefederal government was doing its job to stop illegal immigration, there would never have been a need for Prop 187, which was supported by an overwhelming majority of California voters, nearly 60 percent.

I am speaking here in my capacity as a member of the Commission on Immigration Reform. In our first report to Congress in September 1994, entitled U.S. Immigration Policy: Restoring Credibility, we sought to recommend a comprehensive strategy to faithfully execute the laws against illegal immigration. We chose to focus much of that report on controlling illegal immigration.

Now, let me be clear about this: illegal aliens do come here and use welfare and other public benefits programs. They do send their kids to our schools, and have babies in our hospitals. Those are very serious matters, and they impose costs on the taxpayer. But I am here to tell you, that the reason most illegal aliens come here can be summed up in three little words: They get jobs.

Reducing the employment magnet has to be the linchpin of a comprehensive strategy to reduce illegal immigration. Jobs are the attraction. So the only effective way to deter illegal immigration must include the worksite.

Better border enforcement is necessary, but not sufficient. In this San Diego Sector alone, apprehensions in fiscal 1995 were more than 524,000. You can police the border, you can certainly manage it better, but border enforcement has its limits.

Visa overstayers make up fully half of the influx of illegal aliens who take up permanent residence here illegally every year. That is 150,000 out of 300,000 new illegal aliens who remain here permanently every year, on top of an illegal population that is already close to 5 million. No amount of border enforcement can solve that half of the problem--the people who enter legally, and then do not leave when they should.

We simply must develop a better system for verifying work authorization. That is central to effective enforcement of employer sanctions.

The I-9 process we have now is doubly-flawed. It does not do what it was supposed to do, namely deter the employment of illegal aliens. What it does do, we do not want--namely, make businesses do paperwork, while creating all kinds of opportunities for fraud and forgeries. It may even provide an excuse for, if it does not actually provoke, discrimination against workers who happen to look or sound foreign.

Honest employers are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Because the system is based on documents, employers are placed in a position of making judgments many do not feel qualified to make.

If an employer accepts false documents presented by an unauthorized worker, that employer is vulnerable to employer sanctions for having hired someone under false pretences, regardless of the fact that they may well have been fooled themselves. Yet if an employer chooses to doubt particular documents, and asks for more from some workers and not from others, that is discrimination.

The Commission believes that the way to develop a better system of worksite verification is immediately to test the most promising option. After examining a wide range of alternatives, the Commission concluded that the most promising option for secure, nondiscriminatory verification is a computerized registry based on the Social Security Number.

For decades, all workers have been required to provide employers with their Social Security Number. We want to replace the I-9, this paper chase that doesn't do anybody any good, with a single electronic step to validate information every worker must already provide.

The Commission believes electronic validation of the Social Security Number is the most promising option because it holds great potential for accomplishing the following:

The Commission believes that the computer registry will be preferable to other ways of addressing the problems in the current system. I recently looked at the Telephone Verification System, called TVS, which the INS has been testing. The INS is expanding this test, first from 9 to 200 sites, and eventually to 1,000 sites. I have seen ther system in place and working. It is very effective and accurate. Now, you should look at what the businesses that have used TVS say. They like it. They find that it works. We support this INS effort--but only as an interim measure. It is not the solution. But it shows the way to a solution.

The fatal flaw in the TVS system is that it ultimately depends on self-attestation. Workers are asked whether they are citizens or aliens. It is simply not sound law enforcement to rely on lawbreakers to tell the truth.

But the reaction from the real business that have used it shows that we can develop a better system for worksite verification. When you get back to Washington, don't be snowed by the inside-the-Beltway types who are going to try to sell you a line about how this is some scheme to take away our liberties and impose costs on the taxpayer. What they want is to let employers hire illegal aliens--and that undermines our liberties and imposes huge costs on the taxpayer.

The Commission also looked at the feasibility and effectiveness of reducing the number of documents used in verification. Again, we support such efforts as interim measures. But the fatal flaw here is the vulnerability of all documents to counterfeiting. We heard expert testimony that any document, even the most tamper-proof ones, can be forged so well that only experts can identify the fakes. Employers cannot be expected to identify counterfeit documents.

The Commission recognizes that the computer registry cannot and should not be implemented nationally without substantial testing.

The Commission recommends that pilot projects be undertaken in the five highimpact states--California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois--because that is where the bulk of the illegal alien problem is. We also recommend that, in time, the pilots should be extended to several less-affected states. But we did not recommend that the registry be tested throughout all of the five states immediately, nor even in all of any one of the states. Pilot projects should start small. At each step, we should have results to determine what to do next.

Second, there must be objective, systematic evaluation of the pilot programs. This Commission expects to have meaningful results from the initial phase of pilot testing by 1997. We will incorporate these results in our final report to Congress. We intend to make an informed recommendation on whether that system should be implemented nationwide, with particular attention to civil liberties and privacy concerns. The features of pilot programs should include:

Objective measures and procedures must be included to determine whether current problems related to fraud, discrimination and excessive paperwork requirements for employers are effectively overcome without imposing undue costs on the government, employers, or employees. The evaluation should pay particular attention to the effectiveness of the measures used to protect civil liberties and privacy.

The Commission also recommends reducing the fraudulent access to so-called "breeder documents," particularly birth certificates, that can be used to establish an identity in this country. We recommend these steps:

The Commission also recommends imposition of greater penalties on those producing or selling fraudulent documents. RICO provisions to facilitate racketeering investigations also should cover conspiracy to produce and sell fraudulent documents.

Those are the Commission's recommendations on worksite verification. They are a part of a comprehensive approach to immigration reform that this Commission is developing. As you know, the Commission has also made recommendations on the national interest in legal immigration to deliver promptly on our top priorities of skilled immigration and uniting nuclear families.

The key to our work so far has been that, through intense discussions and study, we have managed to arrive at a bipartisan consensus. We hope to continue that record in a systematic evaluation of what our immigration policy should be in the twentyfirst century. In that effort, we appreciated this Committee's important role in Congressional consideration of our work.

I will be glad to answer any questions.

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Last update August 15, 1996