MEHLMAN: E-Verify Hasn’t Failed, But It Has Been Sabotaged

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Ira Mehlman Ira Mehlman is the media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
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The basis for all civil law enforcement is deterrence. Deterring people from breaking laws is the most effective, economical, and humane way to ensure compliance. It’s why the IRS does random audits of tax returns, or the highway patrol positions squad cars in plain view on the Interstate.

Enforcing immigration laws is no exception. We know what motivates most people to violate our immigration laws: American jobs. The vast majority of people who cross our borders illegally, or overstay their visas, are economic migrants. They believe that they will be significantly better off in the United States, if they can get a job here.

Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which was supposed to wipe the slate clean on illegal immigration by granting amnesty to illegal aliens already here, recognized that if we were ever going to get off the treadmill of large-scale illegal immigration, followed by amnesty, followed by even larger-scale illegal immigration, we needed to end the magnet of employment. That bill promised the American people a reliable method of preventing illegal aliens from gaining employment in the U.S.

The first effort to fulfill the promise to the American people that access to jobs for illegal aliens would be curtailed came about a decade later with the unveiling of what has come be known as E-Verify. The system, as many critics of immigration enforcement have pointed out, hasn’t worked all that effectively — not because E-Verify is irreparably flawed, but because it has been sabotaged by powerful special interests that have a vested interest in making sure it doesn’t work.

Powerful business interests, with tentacles in both political parties, have flexed their considerable muscle in Washington to make sure that use of E-Verify remains voluntary. In other words, businesses that want to continue to help themselves to subsidized illegal alien labor (they get workers at low wages, American taxpayers pick up the social costs), can simply opt out. Those companies that use the program, give it high marks of ease of use and effectiveness.

Likewise, the ever-growing advocacy network, strongly aligned with Democrats, has similarly worked to prevent E-Verify from becoming a permanent government program, with a mandate that all U.S. employers utilize it.

The premise of E-Verify is a simple one: In an age in which credit card companies, banks, and online retailers electronically verify hundreds of millions of transaction every single day, with virtually no error rate, there is no technological reason why employers should not be able to verify the basic personal data provided by a prospective employee against information in the Social Security Administration’s, or other government databases.

A harsh libertarian critic of E-Verify recently cited the case of a “young undocumented immigrant” who used a Social Security number (SSN) that had been issued to an uncle in the 1970s in order to get a job, as an example of the unreliability of E-Verify. Any high school kid with a coding class or two under his or her belt could easily write a program that would recognize that the illegal alien in question was using an SSN that was issued decades before he was born.

Second, not only has Congress failed to require all employers to use E-Verify, but the Executive Branch, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, has consistently failed to incentivize employers to “voluntarily” use the program.

While there are the occasional worksite enforcement actions that net hundreds of illegal workers, uncover other egregious workplace violations (including child labor), and find glaring examples of willful blindness in the hiring process, the employers almost always get off with a slap on wrist. Although the government has the authority to impose hefty fines and hold offenders criminally accountable, only 11 individuals in seven cases, were prosecuted for hiring illegal aliens between April 2018 and March 2019. In that same time span, not a single company was prosecuted. An employer has a significantly better chance of being struck by lightning than being held accountable for violating laws against hiring illegal aliens.

There is nothing wrong with E-Verify that can’t be fixed with relative ease. There is everything wrong with a corrupt political system that allows businesses to hire (and often exploit) illegal aliens, undermine American workers, and perpetuate a system that forces U.S. taxpayers to subsidize their low-wage illegal workers to the tune of $135 billion a year.

E-Verify is not a silver bullet, but it is a big part of any workable plan to rein in rampant illegal immigration — if the people in power would only stop sabotaging it.

Ira Mehlman is media director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a nonprofit group that advocates for legal immigration.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.