Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson recently told Congress that there are "lots" of illegal immigrants working "off the books," telling one congressman that if he were unaware of this fact, he should "spend some time in a restaurant here in the Washington, D.C. area" and see it for himself.
While Johnson made clear he wasn't interested in doing anything to fix this, there is something the D.C. Council can do.
If Council members want to help some of their lawful constituents gain employment, they can simply mandate that all employers use E-Verify, an easy-to-use, free, online federal program that 19 states have already made a permanent part of the hiring process.
A new fact sheet from the Center for Immigration Studies shows the significant increase in enrollment in E-Verify, as well as information about its high rate of accuracy. In 2013, an estimated 44 percent of all new hires were screened through E-Verify, with their names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth matched to existing records. For hundreds of thousands of employers, checking E-Verify to make sure new employees are telling the truth about who they are and their authorization to work has become routine.
Ensuring that only legal workers get new jobs matters. About 29,600 people are unemployed in the District of Columbia, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, and that's using a conservative estimate which puts the unemployment rate at 7.8 percent of the District's population. But the broader unemployment rate, known as the U-6 measure of labor underutilization — which includes those want to work, but have not looked recently, and those forced to work part-time — puts the number at 11.9 percent. Thousands more have dropped out of the labor market altogether. The point is that there is no dearth of potential workers in the nation's capital.
One of the reasons Congress prohibited the hiring of illegal aliens is so that Americans don't lose jobs to foreigners in the country illegally who are willing to work for less. The purpose was to put the interests of American citizens first. Yet the District of Columbia does not seem to have considered that many of the unemployed in this area might be employed if businesses were not allowed to get away with hiring people who are not supposed to be in the country. Approximately 30,000 illegal immigrants live in D.C.
Despite claims from supporters of illegal hiring practices, there is no such thing as a job Americans won't do. And illegal immigrants work in all sorts of different jobs, both low-skilled and high-skilled. According to the Pew Research Center, one in eight illegal immigrants works in a white-collar job. There are thousands of unauthorized immigrants holding jobs in D.C. that could otherwise go to D.C.'s unemployed.
Could it be that the officials elected to run D.C. have simply given up on the District's unemployed residents? Have they concluded that tens of thousands of people are unmotivated to work and unwilling to make an honest paycheck? As more officials like Johnson excuse — even embrace — illegal hiring practices and illegal immigration, it is increasingly difficult to conclude otherwise.
If D.C.'s policymakers are reluctant to mandate E-Verify, maybe they should get it on the ballot and see what the District's residents really feel about businesses hiring illegal aliens instead of D.C.'s unemployed legal residents.
Feere is the legal policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies.