Expand E-Verify, issue more worker visas
Wednesday, January 23, 2019
Caught repeatedly in the exaggeration that thousands of terrorists enter the United States by illegally crossing the Mexican border, President Trump has returned to making another debunked assertion: Undocumented immigrants are stealing jobs from people born in this country.
It isn’t true, but Trump is desperate to find a plausible reason for the government shutdown he engineered to get his border wall funded.
The stolen jobs canard was a staple for Trump during his 2016 election campaign. “They’re taking our jobs,” he said at a Phoenix rally. Trump resurrected the assertion last week in declaring a “crisis” at the border. “All Americans are hurt by illegal immigration,” he said. “It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages. Among those hardest hit are African-Americans and Hispanic Americans.”
Trump gave a shout-out to the black and Hispanic communities because they are disproportionately poor. He wants people to believe workers in the country illegally are taking unskilled jobs that poor people want. Actually, studies show employers have a hard time filling low-wage jobs when there aren’t immigrants to hire.
Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, explained in a 2017 study that undocumented workers typically do the unpleasant, back-breaking jobs — gutting fish, working on farms, performing yard work — that native-born workers aren’t willing to do.
An Associated General Contractors survey last year showed Texas couldn’t find enough construction site laborers partly because of Trump’s immigration crackdown. “Construction has long had a much higher percentage of foreign-born workers than other industries,” said AGC chief economist Kenneth D. Simonson.
Even if Trump were right about undocumented workers stealing jobs, building a border wall isn’t the answer. He would have more success changing companies’ hiring practices by dusting off his campaign promise to “strengthen and expand” the E-Verify system, which requires employers to use an online tool provided by the federal government to determine a job applicant’s status.
Arizona has seen its number of unauthorized workers drop 33 percent below projections since it started using E-Verify in 2008, according to an analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Yet only seven other states — Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah — require private companies to use E-Verify. Only 10 percent of U.S. employers are enrolled in the system.
Previous legislation that would require all states to use E-Verify has been opposed by critics who fear legal residents could fall victim to inaccurate or outdated immigration data that has been provided by the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Social Security Administration. The possibility of E-Verify being hacked has also been raised.
Those valid issues should be addressed in any new legislation to expand E-Verify, but the system should be required in every state. E-Verify can help stop unscrupulous employers from exploiting immigrants who fear complaining about poor pay or working conditions will lead to their deportation. E-Verify puts the onus on employers to make sure their work force is legal or face penalties for not following the law.
As the U.S. cracks down on employers’ use of undocumented workers, it should also look to broaden the ways immigrants can legally find work in our country. One way to begin would be for Congress to increase the number of H-2B temporary visas granted to seasonal and unskilled workers. That would help companies already struggling to find workers with the nation’s unemployment rate at historically low levels. H-2B workers typically go back and forth across the border without seeking permanent residency.
The best answer to America’s illegal immigration problem is comprehensive legislation that goes beyond unlawful border crossings to address the estimated 11.3 million people living in the country illegally.
Even under normal circumstances passing a comprehensive immigration bill has been next to impossible. Expanding E-Verify, however, shouldn’t be as difficult. Trump wants it. Republicans have sponsored bills to do it. Democrats might come aboard if Trump gives up his quixotic quest for a border wall and makes legal residency for the Dreamers part of the bargain.
It’s time to end the theatrics that led to the government shutdown. A wall where technology and more manpower would make more sense will do little to stem illegal border crossings and nothing to address the status of people who have lived here illegally for decades. Washington should start with E-Verify, then take the next step toward comprehensive immigration reform.