Blowback: Don't trust E-Verify on immigration enforcement
Raul A. Reyes, a lawyer living in New York City, responds to The Times' June 13 Op-Ed article "E-Verify works; let's use it." If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy.
Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) advocate the mandatory use of E-Verify to preserve jobs for Americans and crack down on illegal immigration. As a supporter of comprehensive reform, I read their Op-Ed article with great interest and was disheartened by their faulty reasoning, especially in light of the considerable influence the two members of Congress wield over our nation's immigration policy.
They begin their piece by citing the nation's dismal unemployment numbers and quickly segue to their unsourced claim that Americans compete with illegal immigrants for jobs, the reason Smith and Gallegly say mandatory E-Verify checks are needed. Funny, they offer no evidence that citizens are losing out in their quest to land work picking strawberries, cleaning bathrooms or plucking chickens.
Smith and Gallegly write that E-Verify “quickly confirms 99.5% of work-eligible workers.” What they do not say is that the program fails more than half the time at detecting illegal workers. A 2009 study by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services found that E-Verify cleared 54% of undocumented workers to work.
Smith and Gallegly cite a Rasmussen poll reporting that 82% of likely voters thought businesses should be required to use E-Verify. The New York Times' Nate Silver, however, rightly counsels "extreme skepticism" when reviewing polls by Rasmussen Reports. In this case, Rasmussen simply asked people if employers should be required to certify that their employees are legal. This is, in fact, already law. I doubt most Americans would want to be forced into a new government program to get and keep a job.
Citing a study by the Public Policy Institute of California, Smith and Gallegly claim that Arizona's mandatory use of E-Verify has reduced the state's illegal immigration population. They omit one of the institute's key finding: Arizona's use of E-Verify has pushed significant numbers of undocumented workers into the informal economy. Instead of going home, illegal workers have shifted to cash-only transactions, depriving the state of much-needed tax revenue. Is this a policy goal worthy of expanding to all 50 states?
"It is crucial that we promote policies that help grow our economy and increase job opportunities for Americans and legal immigrants," write Smith and Gallegly. I agree. But the National Immigration Law Center estimates a national rollout of E-Verify would result in the loss of about 770,000 jobs. Based on calculations using known error rates for selected employers, the NILC estimates that between 1.2 million and 18.5 million workers would have to consult with the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security to correct their records, a task the Government Accountability Office has called "formidable." Almost anyone could be declared ineligible to work: those who have married, divorced or changed their names; legal immigrants and naturalized citizens with paperwork issues; or those unlucky enough to be victims of clerical errors. So much for promoting job growth.
I found it telling that Smith and Gallegly made no mention of the costs of E-Verify. The Department of Homeland Security estimates it would have to spend $765 million on staff, technology and training if the program were to go national. According to a report by Bloomberg Government, small businesses would bear the brunt of compliance costs, spending about $2.6 billion per year to use E-Verify. E-Verify can be a hassle for big corporations too. In 2008, Intel said that about 12% of its workers were incorrectly tagged as ineligible to work.
What's more, as a Latino, I have deep reservations about a program that would probably result in discriminatory hiring practices. If E-Verify were to go national, employers might be understandably hesitant to hire anyone who looked or sounded foreign-born, thereby subjecting Latinos increasingly to profiling and discrimination.
Although I do not support illegal immigration or the hiring of undocumented workers, I fail to see the benefits of E-Verify as outlined by Smith and Gallegly. The costs and unintended consequences of the program would be great; its payoff is at best debatable. Unfortunately, the two members of Congress seem willing to overlook the realities of immigration, economics and civil rights in their misguided attempt to turn this compliance program into an enforcement tool.
-- Raul A. Reyes
Photo: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) at a May 26 news conference in Washington. Credit: Harry Hamburg / Associated Press.