Steve Chapman
If immigration reform passes, life will get tougher for foreigners who want to come here illegally. Those trying to sneak in will face more agents, fences and drones. Those who slip through will find it harder to get work -- thanks to a mandatory system to verify the legal status of all new hires.

But they'll have company in their misery. It may not have occurred to those who support stricter enforcement that the new system will affect anyone applying for a job. Under the proposed legislation, you will not be able to take employment without explicit federal authorization.

The online system, known as E-Verify, currently lets employers check that new employees are legally allowed to work in this country. Some states already mandate its use. But the immigration package now in the Senate would make it compulsory nationwide for every employer.

How would it work? When you get a new job, you'd have to provide your name, Social Security number and one or more documents to show that you are who you claim to be -- such as a passport or a driver's license.

The employer would then enter the information, which goes into the E-Verify system to be compared against government records. If your documents appear to match, you would get permission to work. If not, you would get a "tentative non-confirmation" indicating that you don't qualify.

That may sound simple and painless for anyone who is here legally, and usually it is. But not always. In 2011, the federal Government Accountability Office reported that about one in every 400 submissions results in an erroneous disqualification.

Emily Tulli, an attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, estimates that in 2012, based on the apparent error rate, "160,000 workers had to contact a government agency to fix a database error or risk losing their jobs." Once every new employee has to go through E-Verify, the number will multiply.

The index of those deemed ineligible is the equivalent of the federal "no-fly" list, which has mistakenly barred infants and U.S. senators, as well as many people who were never told why they are excluded. But a "no-work" list is obviously far worse.

Most of us can manage to find food and shelter without ever getting on an airplane. Doing so without a job is not so easy. Those deprived of the opportunity to make a living would include a lot of native-born citizens as well as many people who were born elsewhere but have come here legally.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

©Creators Syndicate