Oregon’s jobs should go to our returned heroes – not to illegal immigrants

Letter date: 
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Letter publisher: 
Beaverton Velley Times
Letter author: 
Richard F. LaMountain - Guest Opinion
Letter body: 

Earlier this spring, after almost a year in Iraq, 2,700 Oregon Army National Guardsmen came home. Now, many of them face another challenge: "Veterans advocates," noted The Oregonian several weeks ago, "believe that fully half the (returning) soldiers . . . are unemployed."

Across America, disproportionate joblessness afflicts not only demobilizing guardsmen and reservists, but veterans as a whole.

"The Labor Department announced in March that the unemployment rate for 18- to 24-year-old veterans was 21.1 percent in 2009," reports the May issue of VFW magazine, "significantly higher than the 16.6 percent rate for non-veterans in the same age group . . . the jobless rate for all veterans who have served since Sept. 11, 2001, is 12.5 percent."

What makes the job search tougher for unemployed veterans: the presence of illegal immigrants who, in violation of U.S. law, hold jobs those veterans might otherwise get.

Of the 12 million to 20 million illegal immigrants in America, two-thirds are estimated to hold jobs. Some 100,000 of them are believed employed in Oregon. Illegal immigrants have been especially prevalent in building maintenance and groundskeeping, where, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, they recently have comprised 19 percent of the U.S. workforce; in construction, where they have comprised 17 percent; and in food services, where they have comprised 12 percent. These are among the fields that provide the "first rung on the ladder" to millions of American youths - and that could do so as well for many young veterans returning from abroad.

This summer and beyond, how can Oregon employers help assure their new hires are citizens and legal residents - including, especially, returned guardsmen and other veterans - and not illegal immigrants? Simple - by registering to use the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's "E-Verify" system, which some 1,600 Oregon employers, including Nike, Jeld-Wen and Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, already have done. E-Verify enables employers to confirm, instantly and at no cost, the legitimacy of many new hires' Social Security numbers - and, thus, their eligibility to work legally in the United States.

E-Verify is effective. Historically, the system has flagged about 5 percent of submitted Social Security numbers, which corresponds to the estimated percentage of illegal immigrants in the U.S. workforce. Rather than seek to prove legal work status by other means, writes former Homeland Security official Stewart Baker, those with the flagged numbers usually "walk away when they are challenged." For most, this is a tacit admission of illegal presence in America, and it opens the jobs for which they had been considered to citizens and legal residents.

At great personal expense, Oregon's guardsmen stepped up to defend our nation. Now, by registering to use E-Verify, the state's employers can step up for them - and help assure their future hires are not illegal immigrants, but our returned heroes.

(Richard F. LaMountain, a former assistant editor of Conservative Digest magazine, serves on the board of directors of Oregonians for Immigration Reform. He lives in Cedar Mill.)