House E-Verify bill violates GOP pledge for smaller government

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Do you remember during the fall 2010 election campaign when Republican congressional candidates stood alongside tea party members and announced: “Every American should receive permission from the federal government before they can start a new job”? If you don’t remember that, then it’s for a good reason — Republican candidates for Congress in 2010 promised smaller, less intrusive government, not new mandates on Americans and their employers.

The 2010 election was about more than deficit spending; it was about limiting the power of the federal government over the lives of Americans and job-generating employers. However, the Republican promise for limited government is clashing with a Republican-sponsored bill that has passed the House Judiciary Committee, H.R. 2885. This questionable bill, which would affect job seekers and job creators alike, is awaiting word from the Republican House leadership on when it will come to the full House for a vote.

H.R. 2885 would require all employers in America to use an electronic employment verification system called E-Verify every time they hire someone. E-Verify would change the relationship between the governed and the government in a fundamental way. If H.R. 2885 becomes law, employers will face possible criminal prosecution if they fail to use a federal database to check all new hires.

Attorneys who have analyzed H.R. 2885 say it contains extraordinary increases in penalties that could put employers out of business — whether or not they employ illegal immigrants. Elected officeholders voting for this bill would expose business owners to the genuine risk of losing companies years in the making because of a failure to follow government-mandated procedures. Immigration attorney Greg Siskind points out, “The ‘good faith defense’ in the bill is not available to employers who fail to verify existing employees when they become subjected to the E-Verify system.” In fact, it appears there are a variety of ways in which a small business owner can be tripped up by the legislation and be forced to close his or her doors or at least lay off employees to survive. Is this “less government”?

As harmful as mandatory E-Verify will be for employers, including farm owners, it could be even worse for potential employees. According to government data, if E-Verify is made mandatory more than 160,000 people a year, about 1 million over six years, will be forced to go to a federal government office or otherwise correct errors to work in America. Some estimates of the number of us who will need to convince government workers in the Social Security Administration or other agencies we have the right to work in this country are much higher.

An employer who “pre-screens” an applicant and doesn’t get a green light via the flawed E-Verify system may assume a worker is an illegal immigrant without giving him or her a chance to correct their data with the government. That means legally authorized workers in America may not even know why they didn’t get a particular job.

This would create the opposite of a more accountable government. Congress will pass a mandate, then leave it to private sector employers and government bureaucrats to face the ire of workers who are unable to work because of errors in their files.

Supporters call E-Verify a “jobs” bill. Well, that’s true if the jobs one is interested in are government jobs at the Social Security Administration or in the apparatus of the Department of Homeland Security. Examining a similar bill in 2008, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated mandating E-Verify nationwide would increase federal spending by about $12 billion from 2009 to 2018. Since according to the Government Accountability Office half the time E-Verify fails to identify an illegal immigrant worker, this significant expansion of federal authority is unlikely to achieve even its intended purpose.

“A Pledge to America,” the Republican document released during last year’s congressional campaign, stated quite plainly: “Our plan stands on the principles of smaller, more accountable government; economic freedom … ” To be credible, conservatives cannot be about less government during a campaign season and months later support the largest federal intrusion into workplace hiring in recent memory.

Mike Flynn is editor-in-chief of Big Government. Stuart Anderson is executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, a research group based in Arlington, Va., and headed the policy office at the Immigration and Naturalization Service under President George W. Bush.