Congress Has the Tool to Stop Illegal Immigration
When Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, it was hailed as a victory for border security in exchange for an amnesty that addressed illegal immigration. For the first time in our nation’s history, Congress made it a federal crime to employ undocumented workers. At that time, everyone — Democrats and Republicans — believed that Congress had finally solved the problem of illegal immigration by cutting off the “jobs” magnet.
But much of the bill was never enforced, and 32 years later, it is clear that Congress must do more to protect American workers and to combat illegal immigration.
Instead of shutting off the jobs magnet, the 1986 amnesty encouraged more illegal immigration by incentivizing employment-document fraud and identity theft. To make matters worse, employers have very little ability to determine the validity of employment documents. If an employer suspects that a document is stolen or spoofed and refuses to hire someone, they face the prospect of lengthy and expensive discrimination lawsuits. Because of this combination of factors, the demand for unlawful employment remains. Today, the U.S. faces a crisis of epic proportions, with an estimated population of 11 million to 15 million undocumented immigrants.
There is a proven, cost-effective tool to help reduce unlawful employment and to remove future incentives for illegal immigration. That tool is E-Verify. E-Verify is a voluntary, quick and free workforce verification system provided by the federal government that instantly checks an individual’s employment eligibility. E-Verify is the most effective tool available to fight illegal immigration because it drastically reduces or eliminates the illegal jobs magnet.
A recent study found that making E-Verify mandatory not only decreases unlawful immigration, but it also encourages current undocumented immigrants to return home. The study reviewed the Legal Arizona Workers Act, which requires every employer in that state to use E-Verify, and found that since the law was implemented in 2008, undocumented immigrants either moved to states without mandatory E-Verify or returned to their home countries. This study mirrors other research that demonstrates unlawful immigration fell by as much as 50 percent in a single year in states with mandatory E-Verify laws.
Given the clear impact E-Verify has on both future illegal immigration and the current undocumented population, we are disappointed that E-Verify has not been a priority in this year’s immigration debates. We both have long been proponents of requiring workforce verification nationally and we believe mandatory E-Verify should be part of any immigration solution.
E-Verify is supported by the vast majority of voters — 82 percent — and many businesses, particularly those that already follow the law and seek to employ a legal workforce, want to see it implemented. One-third of employers voluntarily use the E-Verify program and 1,500 more employers sign up for E-Verify each week.
We understand that requiring E-Verify presents challenges for some industries, particularly our nation’s agriculture sector. We are not unsympathetic to those challenges. However, in order for Congress to address broader legal workforce issues, the American people must first have trust in our nation’s lawful immigration system. The only way to do that is to stop illegal immigration. E-Verify does that, and it is a critical first and necessary step toward building that trust.
It is our sincere hope that the administration and congressional leaders will commit to making mandatory E-Verify part of any immigration reform proposal.
At a minimum, any reform legislation should contain a permanent authorization of the current voluntary verification program, incentives for employer participation, legal immunity for using the E-Verify system, and information sharing between the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. Those steps — while nowhere near as effective as mandatory E-Verify — are at least helpful improvements to the current system.
We look forward to the continued discussions surrounding immigration reform. And we hope that Congress will recognize the mistakes of 1986 and finally shut off the jobs magnet once and for all. The American people depend on us to restore integrity to our immigration system. We cannot fail them.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Both lawmakers have introduced legislation making E-Verify mandatory.