Businesses would be required to master an 82-page manual, take a 3-hour tutorial and then haggle with bureaucrats when workers are erroneously disqualified. While an expanded bureaucracy might be easily carried by big corporations, it would be an especially heavy lift for the small businesses that employ more than half of U.S. workers. It also targets all government employees and those who work for major government contractors, as well as union halls and non-profits that provide employment services.
As a result, hundreds of thousands of jobs would be lost, business costs would rise, key components of our economy such as the restaurant and agriculture industries would be crippled. Taxpayers also stand to lose billions of dollars when disqualified workers and their employers go off the tax rolls and into the cash economy. An expanded underground economy drives down wages for all U.S. workers - U.S. born and immigrant.
Given the threat it poses to the economy, the public may be confused to hear that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some other national business organizations support this flawed system. The reasons are obvious: national business groups are playing the "inside-the-beltway" lobbying game to appease the GOP and ultimately gain in other policy areas, such as dismantling worksite safety rules and other labor standards. Moreover, the bill is riddled with loopholes for big business, letting them avoid E-Verify by wrongly classifying workers as independent contractors. These businesses are exempted from responsibility when violations occur.
Main Street businesses, shop-keepers, construction contractors, farmers and produce growers know the economic pain that this legislation can inflict and they successfully blocked similar measures in states across the nation this year. They know the government database wrongly disqualifies eligible workers and is too costly for businesses to implement. No wonder 98 percent of small businesses have voted with their feet, refusing E-Verify as a voluntary option.
The point was underscored during a House hearing on the bill by one of the Republicans' witnesses, Barry Rutenberg of the National Association of Home Builders. He noted that 84 percent of his group's members have less than 10 employees. "It is vitally important that a mandatory E-Verify system recognize some basic facts: not all U.S. employers own computers or are computer savvy, not all U.S. employers conduct business or hiring in an office setting and not all U.S. employers have a human resources or a legal department. If E-Verify is mandated, it must work for the smallest U.S. employer as well as the largest," Rutenberg testified.
This irresponsible big business proposal would also damage the agriculture industry. As a former worker in the agricultural fields of California who still has family there, I can testify to the stark reality: at least two-thirds of the workers are unauthorized. Take those workers out of the equation and we end up with overseas food production and higher grocery prices for families that are already struggling. Are Republicans ready to tell Americans, "Get ready to buy more expensive peaches with the sticker 'Imported?'"
As damaging as the bill is, Rep. Smith's rationale is even more preposterous. He asserts that, if unauthorized immigrants are chased out, jobs will be available for America's unemployed. First, two-thirds of the workers who were disqualified after Arizona's E-Verify law became mandatory did not leave, but entered the cash economy. Second, laid off workers with graduate degrees are not lining up for stoop labor.
This bill is a jobs killer. Worksite enforcement will only work when combined with a comprehensive immigration solution that appropriately addresses the labor needs of the big business interests Republicans are now trying to protect.
It's time to stop the attacks against workers and our economy and instead work to create jobs and rebuild the middle class.
Eliseo Medina is International Secretary-Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union.