Opinion

Faith in immigration enforcement is misplaced

Photo of Alex Nowrasteh
Alex Nowrasteh
Immigration Policy Analyst, Cato Institute

In Arizona, where E-Verify clearance has been mandatory for all hires since 2008, 75 percent of businesses with five or more employees are enrolled in the program. In 2011, only 67 percent of new hires in Arizona were run through E-Verify. In Arizona, a quarter of firms and a third of businesses break the law by ignoring the E-Verify mandate.

More recently, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina also mandated E-Verify for hiring. In those states, so far, business compliance rates are lower than in Arizona. In Georgia, a paltry 34 percent of businesses with five or more employees are enrolled in the program. E-Verify’s biggest “success” has been to drive thousands of people and businesses deeper into the black market.

Immigration enforcement is effective when the authorities act as a funnel to guide immigrants toward a legal pathway. This strategy only works when a legal pathway actually exists. Currently, for most prospective immigrants, it does not. More green cards for lower-skilled workers, a large and flexible guest worker program, or a combination of both will make effective enforcement possible — not faith in big-government immigration enforcement.

Faith in immigration enforcement is similar to faith in other big-government programs. Proponents of both quickly admit failures but call for ever more tax dollars and government power to correct them. The result is a larger, more intrusive, and more expensive bureaucracy that fails at its mission but invariably succeeds in leaving us poorer and less free.

Alex Nowrasteh is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute.