President Trump’s sound and fury on immigration has delivered close to nothing. Trump never lets up, thundering against “illegal aliens” as a criminal class while pushing his enforcers to treat the impoverished ones without mercy. But actually, illegal immigration is again rising — and significantly. So much for the “Trump effect.”
Here’s the naked truth: Trump tries to look tough by brutalizing Central Americans without papers but avoids disturbing the companies that hire them.
Every semi-informed American knows that the vast majority of undocumented immigrants come for jobs. And there’s a proven system in place that greatly weakens the job magnet. It’s called E-Verify, basically a database that lets employers easily check whether a prospective new hire may legally work in this country.
Candidate Trump supported requiring use of E-Verify nationwide. President Trump put money for E-Verify in his budget but doesn’t talk about it at all. There are three possible reasons:
One, solving the problem of illegal immigration would deprive him of a potent issue. Two, it would greatly inconvenience many of his business supporters, who want the cheap labor. Three, it would shine bright lights on the reality that our economy needs more foreign-born labor, not just the tech-savvy but also low-skilled people eager to work. That would result in granting entry to more nonwhites, thus displeasing the racist wing of the Trump base.
Eight states already require their employers to use E-Verify. Arizona started in 2008. Since then, the number of undocumented workers in the state is 33 percent lower than what was projected without the law, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. The other E-Verify states are Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.
Some of the governors complain that their companies are losing business to competitors in states that avail themselves of the lower-cost illegal labor. Florida Gov. Rick Scott says that’s why he backed off his campaign promise to institute E-Verify statewide.
You’d think that all these politicians would therefore back making use of E-Verify a national mandate. But you’d be wrong. As Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina explained, Republicans aren’t calling for it because of the low unemployment rate.
Let’s digest that. If there is a shortage of labor but you want the labor to be legal, why not mandate E-Verify but bring in more immigrants through normal channels? The answer is that what many really want is more cheap illegal labor.
A sensible approach would have the U.S. establish a panel of labor experts to continually monitor the economy’s needs. The job would include keeping an eye on wages to ensure that employers provide decent pay.
The panel would then recommend the number and skills of immigrants to be admitted. There would still be special programs for agriculture and other industries that need temporary help.
E-Verify would move most immigration enforcement from the border to the employment office. For all the chest-beating about a wall with Mexico, the fact remains that 40 percent of undocumented workers didn’t sneak in but overstayed their visas. E-Verify would identify them, as well.
Marry E-Verify to a realistic immigration program and the obscene show of separating children from their parents would close. There could be an orderly process for assessing asylum claims. More poor foreigners could enter via the front door. And law enforcement could concentrate on dangerous criminals.
Lastly, add in comprehensive reform. That would mean legalizing the status of most undocumented immigrants who’ve set roots here while requiring all employers to use E-Verify going forward.
Administration officials insist on doing the enforcement part only. But without E-Verify, they’re not doing enforcement. They’re only roughing up brown people for the cameras.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. Emial her at firstname.lastname@example.org.