The president understands the problem. Speaking in El Paso, he talked about the need for comprehensive immigration reform and noted that our system punishes everyone – citizen or immigrant – who follows the rules. This is especially true of businesses, big and small, who play fair and obey our outdated laws. Unscrupulous employers are able to skirt the system, exploit workers, and drive down wages for everyone while law abiding businesses can’t attract the talent, labor, or brain power they need.
The American public gets it too. According to a recent Pew poll, 72 percent of Americans support a path to legal citizenship for the undocumented. As usual, Americans are way ahead of Congress.
Thus, it would be rational to assume that pursuing a comprehensive solution to a national problem that overwhelming numbers of Americans want fixed would be a slam-dunk. But you would be wrong and that’s probably because you don’t know House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas). He is Congress’s biggest obstacle to fixing one our country’s worst and most pressing problems.
As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Smith should be in the catbird seat to lead Republican efforts at shaping immigration reform. Instead, he has indicated that comprehensive immigration reform is dead on arrival in his committee, continuing a years- long drought of Republican contributions or ideas. Instead, Smith wants to add an onerous, costly, and economically ruinous layer of bureaucracy on top of the whole system.
Oh, and one more thing - he wants to make it mandatory.
Innocuously named E-verify, Smith sells it as an economic panacea that would protect American jobs by forcing millions of farmworkers to leave the fields. Much like Snow White, Smith believes a wave of the magic E-verify wand will make all of our problems go away. But America’s economic problems aren’t make believe, and Smith’s E-verify fairy tales are just too good to be true.
First, it doesn’t work. Due to horrible error rates, the government estimates that mandatory E-verify will force between 3 million and 4.1 million workers to try to get their records corrected by a government agency or lose their jobs and another 770,000 will actually lose their jobs.
Smith’s E-Verify bill has been called a “regulatory predator” by The Competitive Enterprise Institute, whose testimony to Congress said the bill would “seriously harm small businesses, greatly expand unwarranted government intrusion into Americans’ private lives, and push hundreds of thousands of Americans out of the workforce due to systematic bureaucratic errors.” Worse, e-verify is another band-aid “fix” on a badly broken system and will force undocumented immigrants on the tax rolls into the underground cash economy costing the federal government $22 billion a year.
Smith wants the same enforcement only approach of the last 25 years - an easy crutch for enforcement-only Republicans who have yet to present a coherent plan to overhaul our badly broken system. The American people shouldn’t let them off the hook so easily.
Republicans, like their Democratic counterparts, must govern. That means working with Democrats to offer coherent, realistic, and workable solutions to the broken immigration system that serve the interests of our nation. America deserves better than the immigration fairy tales and make –believe rhetoric that have led us to our badly broken system.
Comprehensive immigration reform should include a path to citizenship for the undocumented that requires them to register, go through background checks, pay taxes, and study English on their way to becoming full U.S. citizens creating millions of new taxpayers in the process. A comprehensive reform would help our economic recovery, stabilize the workforce, and enhance our national security by focusing our enforcement and security measures on the most dangerous threats to our communities.
We need a uniquely American system worthy of its people and that honors our proud history of as a nation of laws and immigrants, values and keeps American families together, and protects the rights and dignity of all.
Ali Noorani is the executive director of the National Immigration Forum.