Mandatory E-Verify: an idea before its time

I am blatantly for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. CIR will require the use of a mandatory E-Verify system – including the use of this program by small and medium sized businesses - to work. Period. However, the Congressman really has not thought this bill through to its actual conclusion, if used as an Enforcement Only / Attrition Through Enforcement measure. Yes, some citizen or legal workers will gain jobs through the screening out of illegal workers. However, I would argue that the gain of those jobs is negligible compared to the overall loss of American jobs through this dangerous and ill conceived scheme.

Furthermore, this bill throws my home state of California completely under the bus, as it does to the Congressman’s home state of Texas, (not to mention Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, Georgia, Washington, Nevada, and many, many other states). You see, in reality, as many as 50 percent or more of the workers in many small and medium sized manufacturing operations – the backbone of our economic engine – are illegal in California. The same or slightly lesser numbers can be found in several other states. If there are some 7 million illegal workers currently employed, they are, in fact, working. Logic dictates that if someone – illegal or otherwise – has a job in today’s economy, then they are good at it.

So what is the reality here? What would happen to these businesses, (that, let’s face it, are struggling enough already just to stay afloat), should mandatory E-Verify become the law of the land? Would there really just be a seamless turnover? No. Would citizens simply just step in and fill those positions? No. Would there be a loss of productivity? Yes.

Sure, some folks would step in and fill the jobs of illegal workers with only minor loss of productivity. However, in almost all cases, there would have to be a search process, (and in most cases, a lengthy one). If that should prove successful, there would have to be a training process, to bring the new trainee up to the speed of the old and experienced good yet illegal worker. This would, at best, take months, and more likely years. Many businesses would not be able to survive the change period. Others would lose business during this period, but would eventually stabilize, albeit as a smaller entity.

Much of the business activity currently produced by these businesses would simply be shipped overseas, and much of that loss of production would be permanent. This should not be understated. Mandatory E-Verify without an accompanying legalization program would lead to the massive outsourcing of production – make no mistake. There are no businesses that will be helped by this process, only a scale of how detrimental this policy would prove to be.

And what of the workers that agreed to take these “old economy” jobs to replace illegal workers? Wouldn’t they simply move back to their “better” jobs at the first opportunity, or when the economy does pick up? Of course they would, at the very first opportunity. Where would that leave all of the small and medium businesses that had survived the turnover period then? They would be completely out of luck, as the prior “illegal” employees would be gone, most likely into the underground economy, and they would still be illegal, and therefore unemployable. What a future mess this would all cause, and for less than nothing.

This of course doesn’t even take into consideration the massive problems this would cause to the agribusiness industry, (even with a 3 year waiting period for some of these businesses). Let us not forget that we currently have a $50 billion per month trade deficit, and agribusiness is our largest export category. We should be helping these businesses to increase production, not “manage” the loss of production. 

Actually, the same is true with manufacturing. We should not be training people to replace other people at old economy jobs, we should be training people to perform the new economy jobs that will materialize much more quickly if we do not shoot ourselves in the economic foot with ill conceived plans. This mandatory E-Verify bill is the Mother of all ill conceived plans.

Let us not forget for even a minute the horrific human toll on the undocumented families. We are talking about over 11 million undocumented people, and their accompanying millions of citizen or legal family members. Where is the compassion for these people? Most of them have been here living, working, and contributing to society for over a decade. This mandatory bill, without an accompanying legalization program, would decimate these good families. I believe that this is not the American Way.

So yes, we will need an E-Verify program. However, it cannot stand alone. Without an accompanying legalization program our economy will suffer significantly, as will millions of families. I applaud Chairman Smith for his interest in an important E-Verify program, but I strongly caution him to wait for an equally important legalization measure, as well as an equally important border security measure, to provide needed and mandatory balance to this bill.

Robert Gittelson is the co-founder of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.