Government Shutdown: E-Verify Program Suspended The president has demanded billions for a border wall, but the ensuing standoff is taking a growing toll on immigration enforcement, including the online database that lets employers screen workers.
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'An Irony': Shutdown Fight Over Border Security Takes Toll On Immigration Enforcement

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'An Irony': Shutdown Fight Over Border Security Takes Toll On Immigration Enforcement

'An Irony': Shutdown Fight Over Border Security Takes Toll On Immigration Enforcement

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The government shutdown began with the president's demand for more border security money. Ironically, the shutdown is now taking a growing toll on immigration enforcement. One casualty - E-Verify. That's a federal program that's supposed to prevent immigrants from working illegally. NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Say you're an employer, and you want to be sure that new employee you want to hire is eligible to work in the U.S. Right now, you are out of luck. The government-run system is down. The website warns that E-Verify is, quote, "currently unavailable due to a lapse in government appropriations."

JULIE PACE: At first, people thought it was a day or two or three. Now we're into two weeks.

ROSE: Julie Pace is an attorney specializing in employment and immigration law in Phoenix. Employers can get in big trouble for knowingly hiring undocumented workers. And Arizona is one of several states where they are required to use E-Verify. The longer the shutdown lasts, the more Pace is fielding panicked calls and emails from employers.

PACE: So now the calls are, we've got to onboard these people, so we're just going to move forward; can we do that?

ROSE: Pace says some employers will probably go ahead and hire people anyway. Others will wait until the shutdown is over. And some may even speed up hiring to get people through the process while E-Verify is down.

PACE: It is an irony that the government shutdown is over the wall when we have an electronic wall for E-Verify that should be being used that the government has not funded.

ROSE: The E-Verify outage is just one way the government shutdown - now in its 13th day - is taking a toll on the U.S. immigration system. Border Patrol agents are working, but they won't get paid until the shutdown ends. So are tens of thousands of other immigration agents in the Department of Homeland Security. Tony Reardon is the head of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents about 30,000 Customs and Border Protection officers.

TONY REARDON: They are angry. They are scared. They are doing the work of this country not knowing whether they're going to be able to put food on the table. The morale is as low as I have ever seen it.

ROSE: Thousands of workers, who are considered nonessential, have been furloughed. That means many immigration courts are closed. Some immigration judges are working without pay. But they're only hearing cases where the immigrant is in detention. Heena Arora is an immigration lawyer in Queens, N.Y.

HEENA ARORA: People are totally confused about what to do, about showing up or not showing up.

ROSE: Arora says some of her clients waited years for hearings in the backlogged immigration courts. But when their day came, the hearings weren't held because of the shutdown.

ARORA: And we don't know when it's going to be rescheduled for. It could be rescheduled for next month. It could be rescheduled for next year or even a couple of years later. So we have no idea. It sucks. It sucks for them, and it sucks for me also because, like, you know, I have no work this week.

ROSE: Still, immigration hard-liners think the president should not back down from his demand for a border wall now. Mark Krikorian is the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors lower levels of immigration. He's also a big fan of E-Verify. He would like the program to be mandatory all over the country. But if it has to be shut down for a few weeks to make a point, Krikorian says so be it.

MARK KRIKORIAN: It's unfortunate, but it's just part of the larger problem of playing chicken over parts of the government when there are disputes like this over policy.

ROSE: The White House is supposed to meet with congressional Democrats again tomorrow. But Krikorian and other observers don't see an end to the stalemate anytime soon. Joel Rose, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF EARL HOOKER'S "BLUE GUITAR")

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