By Froma Harrop
You’d think from all the bombast and military shows at the border that Donald Trump is truly dedicated to ending illegal immigration. His apparent choice of Ken Cuccinelli as immigration “czar” would seem to cement the impression. The immigration hardliner espouses policies that are both cruel — denying citizenship to American-born children of undocumented immigrants — and truly stupid — letting companies fire employees who don’t speak English at work.
Trump, however, blew his cover following his release of an actually sensible immigration proposal. The plan would scale back family-based immigration in favor of a preference for foreigners with needed skills. Good idea. Canada does it. But something was definitely missing: a means to stop employers from hiring workers without papers.
The system to do that is already in place. It’s called E-Verify. E-Verify is a database that enables companies to quickly check a prospective new hire’s right to work in this country.
Paging Donald Trump. Paging Donald Trump.
Asked on Fox News whether his immigration proposals would include E-Verify, Trump responded that it could “possibly” be part of it. “E-Verify is so tough that in some cases, like farmers, they’re not, they’re not equipped for E-Verify,” he said.
Oh, really? Does Trump think farmers don’t have laptops?
As long as foreigners can get jobs in the U.S. paying many times what they do back home, they’re going to come here. You can’t blame them for trying. Many of us would do the same. Meanwhile, our undocumented immigrants are overwhelmingly good people. They all deserve humane treatment.
But we have our own low-skilled workers to protect, and that requires limiting the number of the foreign-born people competing for their jobs. E-Verify, or a system like it, is the only effective way of unplugging the job magnet that attracts undocumented workers. Walls two miles high won’t do it.
Trump’s game, however, is to make a show of abusing and humiliating impoverished Central Americans while wink-winking at businesses that use the illegal labor. If Trump wants to ensure that U.S. agriculture gets the farm workers it needs, he can man up and support changing the laws to admit more people. They may not be as cheap, but that’s legal labor for you.
By the way, E-Verify was part of a comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate six years ago with votes from both parties. It could have passed the House with bipartisan support, but then-House Speaker John Boehner refused to bring it up for a vote because a majority of his fellow Republicans opposed it.
Some of the bill’s foes pointed to the 1986 immigration reform, which gave amnesty to many undocumented workers but failed to stop the illegal flow into the country. And they were right about that. Job applicants could present stolen or counterfeit Social Security cards or other documents, and if they looked OK (more winking), the employer was off the hook.
But the 2013 bill’s inclusion of E-Verify fixed that flaw. Face it. There’s no talking to people whose real issue is the color of the immigrants.
Another hint that he doesn’t really mean business on immigration is his omitting any mention of those brought to the country illegally as children. Polls show that Americans overwhelmingly support legalizing the status of these so-called Dreamers.
Whenever things get slow, Trump moves to a “tougher message,” such as naming Cuccinelli immigration czar. Interesting that Cuccinelli once said he considered not getting a Social Security card for his newborn “because it’s being used to track you.”
So much for E-Verify, which tracks Social Security numbers.
Then again, on immigration, Trump is mainly messaging to his base. And the bigger the mess, the better the message.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.