Last year, Immigration Customs and Enforcement agents carried out a federal criminal investigation action on a Tennessee meatpacking plant suspected of hiring illegal immigrants. By day’s end, 97 workers were detained, with 86 of them arrested on administrative charges and placed into deportation proceedings.
Following the sweep, 40 were released on bond; five remain in federal custody; six have been deported, and 12 agreed to voluntary departure. Last month, advocacy groups filed lawsuits against nine federal officials and 30 unnamed ICE agents alleging unlawful searches and arrests, racial profiling and excessive force. Last September, the plant owner plead guilty to federal tax and wire fraud charges, as well as to hiring unauthorized workers.
The Tennessee ICE action brought heartaches and headaches to many that could have been avoided if Congress had passed mandatory E-Verify, the free, online program which confirms that workers are legally authorized to work in the U.S. Despite its popularity with voters, the National Sheriffs Association, President Obama, President Obama’s former ICE director, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and several pro-immigration newspapers, Congress has stubbornly refused for more than 20 years to pass E-Verify even though the program has compiled a successful track record with its users.
White House officials, led by President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, recently hosted a series of immigration-policy meetings. Some of the attendees reportedly pressured the president to expand employment-based immigration. This, of course, would be a significant departure from the president’s campaign messaging and first two years of his presidency, and a major disappointment to voters.
Employers claim they need more immigration because of what they allege is a labor shortage. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports several million working-age Americans are jobless. The White House’s goal should be to help get them employed, not to issue more visas to foreign-born workers. Tight labor markets translate to more Americans getting jobs and earning higher wages.
According to a senior economist with the Dallas Fed, wages increased for low-skilled workers born in the U.S. in states that mandated E-Verify, up between 7 percent to 9 percent. Mandatory E-Verify would prevent illegal immigrants from employment, and open up more jobs to Americans. The jobs magnet is immigration’s biggest pull factor.
Mandatory E-Verify should be an essential part of any conversation about immigration policy changes. E-Verify would also help stop unscrupulous employers like the Tennessee plant owner from exploiting immigrants who fear that complaining about poor pay or working conditions will lead to their deportation. E-Verify puts the onus on employers to guarantee that their workforce is legal or face fines and other penalties for disobeying the law. Whereas strategic border barriers are necessary to thwart people seeking to cross the border illegally, E-Verify is the most effective tool to reduce the number of attempted entries in the first place. Faced with an exorbitant fee for a smuggler to guide him through the desert, a migrant who knows he’ll be E-Verified, and therefore unable to get a job, is much less likely to come to the U.S.
Despite his critical campaign rhetoric against illegal immigration, President Trump has been mostly silent about E-Verify. Yet, only a few weeks ago, the Trump Organization adopted E-Verify for its companies. Explaining the move away from the paper-based I-9 system to E-Verify, Trump Organization Executive Vice President Eric Trump said that when employees present “fake and fraudulent documentation, we will take appropriate action.” Presumably, Americans will replace the dismissed unauthorized workers.
The Trump Organization’s shift to E-Verify makes one wonder. If E-Verify’s advantages are so obvious to the Trump Organization, why does it appear to be such a low priority for Congress?
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Alabama) recently introduced companion legislation that would compel employers to use E-Verify. Grassley and Brooks have given Congress another chance to protect American workers, and President Trump should urge passage. Without E-Verify, the illegal immigrant hiring status quo will continue indefinitely.
Jeremy Beck is the director of the media standards project for NumbersUSA, a nonprofit group that advocates for reduced immigration.