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DHS needs help to step up immigration enforcement in the workplace


One of the few areas of the immigration policy debate where there is near universal consensus is that the availability of jobs in this country is the driving force behind large-scale illegal immigration. Ending the magnet of employment in the U.S. will be a priority for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2018, the agency announced this week. 

Drying up the supply of jobs available to illegal aliens was the theory behind the employer sanctions provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. That provision made it illegal for employers to hire unauthorized workers. The law has largely been ineffective due to lax enforcement and gaping loopholes that have allowed employers to easily circumvent the intent of the law.

Even with the flaws in the 1986 law, ICE has the statutory authority it needs to fine and/or prosecute employers that flagrantly violate the employer sanctions provision, and to remove illegal workers. Past administrations, Republican and Democrat, have mostly been reluctant to prosecute businesses that hire illegal aliens while, at the same time, undermining American workers.

{mosads}Both parties are often swayed by powerful business interests that have come to view illegal immigration as a ready supply of malleable and subsidized labor. Under this arrangement, the employers have  been able to pay illegal workers lower wages and often provide substandard working conditions, while the American public absorbed the costs of education, health care and other vital services required by the illegal workers and their dependents. And Democrats, despite traditionally being the party of the working people, have faced growing pressure from increasingly influential ethnic advocacy groups to minimize immigration enforcement in the workplace.


On past occasions when administrations have decided to carry out worksite enforcement, these actions have made a difference. After being rebuffed in his effort to enact a sweeping illegal alien amnesty because the public had little confidence in another set of legislative promises of future enforcement, ICE stepped up workplace enforcement during the last 18 months of the George W. Bush administration. The result was a reduction in the number of people entering and living in the U.S. illegally.

That trend continued during the early years of the Obama presidency. Even though the Obama administration halted meaningful workplace enforcement, jobs remained scarce because of the Great Recession. However, as the economy improved and workplace enforcement remained virtually non-existent, illegal immigration crept back up.

The Trump administration is, to say the least, unconventional and may not be as easily swayed by political winds that blow down from K Street. Nor is it likely to be moved by the demands of the advocates for illegal aliens. But it will still need some help from Congress to maximize the effectiveness of its workplace enforcement efforts.

Congress can augment the effectiveness of ICE’s efforts to ensure a legal labor force by requiring all U.S. employers to verify workers’ employment eligibility by making E-Verify a mandatory part of the hiring process. Except in a handful of states that require all employers to use E-Verify, use of the system is entirely voluntary. Most employers, with no particular expertise in detecting fraud, merely retain copies of documents presented by prospective employers, without any way to verify them. In an age in which electronic verifications of all sorts are carried out hundreds of millions of times a day, with near 100 percent accuracy, the only real barrier to mandatory use of E-Verify is political, not technological.

Second, Congress can appropriate the money requested by President Trump to hire additional ICE personnel — particularly those dedicated to workplace enforcement. Much like an increase of highway patrol vehicles on the roads deters drivers from speeding, an increased number inspectors monitoring compliance with employer sanctions laws can dramatically minimize the number of companies willing to take the risk of hiring illegal aliens.

The most effective and most humane way of enforcing immigration laws is to convince as many people as possible that there is no benefit in breaking them. ICE’s announcement that it intends to deter illegal immigration by targeting employers that hire illegal aliens is an encouraging development that enjoys overwhelming public support and deserves the support of Congress as well.

Ira Mehlman is media director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

Tags Donald Trump E-Verify Illegal immigration Illegal immigration to the United States Immigration Reform and Control Act Immigration to the United States

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