Bipartisan Proposal Will Prevent Immigration Reform
By Douglas Rivlin
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) joined several Republican and Democratic Members of Congress (a mix of veterans opposed to immigration reform and several freshmen like Chaffetz, see list below) to introduce an immigration-related resolution Thursday.
The resolution would be a non-binding but symbolic statement aimed at putting Representatives of both parties on-the-record in support of two propositions:
- That all employers be required to first check every person they hire against a federal government database known as E-verify in order to get clearance that the person has the ability to work legally in the U.S.; and
- That no person who is in the United States illegally can have legal status.
Those may sound like reasonable propositions to many who are concerned about illegal immigration, but they are both radical propositions in their own way.
The government database in question does not do a good job of preventing immigrants here illegally from working, but does too good a job preventing legal immigrants and U.S. citizens from being able to get a job because as numerous government and private-sector studies have found, the underlying database is so filled with errors. The prohibition on legal status for people here illegally, regardless of what restitution or process they are willing to do to make amends, ties the hands of Congress and ensures that we will have a vast population of immigrants here illegally for the foreseeable future. Neither of those outcomes is helpful for a country trying to promote economic growth and jobs while fighting a war against terrorists and international criminals.
E-VERIFY is a deeply flawed program that is an added expense to business, is a jobs killer for out-of-work citizens and immigrants alike, and ignores the reality and magnitude of our current immigration situation. If implemented in its current form, it could drive more immigrant workers off-the-books and cause huge disruptions to Social Security, which is already having problems delivering services in a timely manner.
The current proposals for employment verification are unworkable for the Social Security Administration and they threaten progress in reducing the disability claims backlog.
In fact, the Washington Times reported this week that the Social Security Administration, which administers E-Verify with the Department of Homeland Security, doesn’t even use the system for new hires regularly at the agency itself! When our own government finds their own database difficult to use properly or uniformly, maybe it’s not ready to be extended to every single citizen and immigrant being hired in an already slow economy.
The Cato Institute, in enumerating the many flaws with E-Verify, calls it “Franz Kafka’s solution to illegal immigration.” Cato’s Jim Harper’s well-researched paper is a scathing criticism of E-Verify, finding that if it were extended to the entire workforce, it:
“would have substantial costs yet still fail to prevent illegal immigration. It would deny a sizable percentage of law-abiding American citizens the ability to work legally. Deemed ineligible by a database, millions each year would go pleading to the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration for the right to work. By increasing the value of committing identity fraud [it] would cause that crime’s rates to rise.”
A fact sheet on E-Verify (pdf) from the National Immigration Law Center and an excellent article on the Immigration Policy Center’s Immigration Impact blog enumerate the E-Verify program’s “fatal flaws” and describe why it is a disaster waiting to strike the U.S. economy with little to show in terms of actually addressing the presence of unauthorized workers in the U.S. workforce.
Banning legal status for immigrants here illegally appeals to those who oppose “amnesty,” but it implies that these Members of Congress support a policy of mass deportation or are willing to tolerate a vast underground of undocumented workers for years or decades to come, and perhaps forever. They are choosing one of these undesirable options:
Mass deportation: Do these Members of Congress support deporting all 12,000,000 people living and working in the U.S. who don’t have legal immigration status? That undertaking – removing a population equivalent to the population of Ohio or Pennsylvania from the U.S. by force – would include hearings, detention, and transportation costs paid for by the American taxpayer. I t also would remove 12,000,000 consumers and many tax-paying immigrants from the economic activity of the country when we need our economy to be strengthened. The Center for American Progress estimates that the cost of removing just 10,000,000 people alone in 2005 would have been somewhere around $41 billion dollars. Furthermore, even if E-Verify were somehow a magic bullet, it would not help the more than 16,000,000 unemployed Americans.
Status quo: If these Members of Congress are not calling for mass deportation, then they are necessarily willing to tolerate the presence of 12,000,000 undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and are hoping their work and their presence is driven farther underground and off-the-books. Most experts feel a vast underground economy and a black market of smuggling, false documents, and unknown identities makes the U.S. less safe, perhaps even giving terrorists and drug-dealers the cover they need to operate in the U.S. by blending into the crowd.
Preventing any legalization for people who are working and would like to be in the U.S. legally means we would not put immigrants through the process of getting them on-the-books, making them pass criminal background checks, or the other steps that a legalization program would force immigrants to undertake. We have already essentially outlawed the prospect of an immigrant leaving the country and “coming back the right way” by banning most immigrants who were ever in the U.S. illegally from applying for a visa and by the endless backlogs for legal immigration for those people who are eligible to apply.
A process of attrition: We deported a population the size of Tampa or St. Louis last year (around 370,000 people) at a cost of billions. Even at that record-setting rate, it would take more than 30 years to remove 12,000,000 people, assuming no more enter or come back. Advocates that back measures like the one introduced by these Members of Congress argue that people are leaving and will leave on their own. But by their own estimates, advocacy groups opposed to immigration reform estimate perhaps 1 or 2 million have left on their own. With double-digit unemployment, increased deportations, and having been cut off from almost every form of public assistance or safety-net program, if they haven’t left by now, they probably aren’t leaving on their own anytime soon.
These Members of Congress have also missed the importance of legalizing immigrants:
- Legalization would benefit the economy by adding $1.5 trillion to the US gross domestic product and government tax rolls over ten years;
- Legalization would force immigrants to register, pass a criminal background check to weed out serious criminals, and pay fines and taxes to get legal papers;
- Legalization would ensure that employers pay fair wages and respect U.S. labor laws for all workers, eliminating the safety-valve they currently have by hiring under-the-table or off-the-books.
The American people get it. They understand that getting immigrants who are here illegally into the system and under the law is a more practical solution than driving them underground or hoping to drive them out. That’s why 69 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of Independents and 62 percent of Republicans support a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants living in this country, according to polls released by the advocacy group America’s Voice.
Taking a “tough on illegal immigration” stance probably seems like a no-brainer for these Members of Congress, but they are likely to learn what their colleagues and the American public already know: simplistic solutions to complex problems are almost always wrong.
But this is politics and actually putting forward solutions to tough public policy issues is not what these Members of Congress are doing here. What they have introduced is not a legislative proposal but a non-binding resolution to send a signal. They are trying to preempt a discussion of immigration reform before it is even underway. They are saying that they will dig in their heels and fight any immigration proposal that has a chance of reducing the population of immigrants in America illegally and putting our immigration system on a legal footing.
Those signing on to the non-binding resolution:
John Barrow (D-Ga.)
Bobby Bright (D-Ala.)
Travis Childers (D-Miss.)
Mike Coffman (R-Colo.)
John Fleming (R-La.)
Gregg Harper (R-Miss)
Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.)
Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.)
Steve Kagen (D-Wis.)
Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.)
Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.)
Patrick Murphy (D-Penn.)
Glenn Nye (D-Va.)
Pete Olson (R-Texas)
Bill Posey (R-Fla.)
Phil Roe (R-Tenn.)
Heath Shuler (D-N.C.)
Gene Taylor (D-Miss.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Douglas Rivlin is an immigration expert based in Washington, D.C. He has written on issues of immigration for the NEWS JUNKIE POST in the past. To visit his blog click here.