Opinion | Immigration

Mandatory E-Verify: The other border wall

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Last month, the Washington Post reported that about a dozen workers were fired from their jobs at the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County, New York, because they are undocumented immigrants. This was not the first time the Trump Organization ran afoul of the federal law prohibiting the employment of illegal aliens. Illegal workers have been found of the payroll of another Trump golf resort in New Jersey, and on the construction crews that built Trump Tower in Manhattan. Several of those workers were in the House gallery for the State of the Union address, as invited guests of Democratic lawmakers.

In response to these revelations, the company's executive vice president, Eric Trump, announced the Trump Organization would be "instituting E-Verify on all of our properties as soon as possible." Better late than never. The Trump Organization may have repeatedly violated federal law by hiring illegal aliens, but it, like countless other employers, has had no legal culpability for failing to use the federal E-Verify program - which has been found to be more than 99 percent effective at screening out illegal workers.

This week, to avoid another government shutdown, House and Senate negotiators reached an "agreement in principle" on border security - a deal that still needs to pass both chambers and one that President Trump has said he isn't happy with. Perhaps mandating the use of E-Verify for all U.S. employers could become common ground for both sides.

As Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) pointed out last August, people overstaying visas account for nearly half of all new illegal migrants in the United States, and a border wall will do nothing to stop that. (A wall, however, would be enormously effective in curbing the other half.) There is overwhelming consensus that the lure of jobs in the United States is still the driving force behind illegal migration. A healthy U.S. economy and robust job market, combined with economic and social collapse in a growing number of countries, only increases the incentive for economic migration. The Central American caravans prove that.

Mandatory E-Verify would constitute a psychological barrier to large-scale illegal immigration. Knowing that there is a high degree of probability that a bogus or stolen Social Security number will be flagged when an employer runs it through the E-Verify system would serve as a strong deterrent for economic migrants, whether they cross the border illegally or overstay visas.

At the same time, mandatory E-Verify is a way to ensure that employers are held accountable for employing illegal aliens. In an age in which sophisticated identification technology is used in almost every aspect of daily life and commerce, the employment eligibility screening process requires nothing more than an employer inspecting identification documents and affirming that they appear to be valid. It is a gaping loophole in the law that ensures that businesses wishing to hire illegal aliens can continue to do so - to the detriment of legal workers and at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.

Much as they did in the past with a border wall, some Democrats have endorsed the need for mandatory employment verification based on biometric identification. Speaking at an immigration law and policy conference in 2009, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) laid out seven principles for what he considered to be true immigration reform. Among them was the creation of "a biometric-based employer verification system with tough enforcement and auditing necessary to significantly diminish the job magnet that attracts illegal aliens to the United States and to provide certainty and simplicity for employers."

The now voluntary E-Verify system fits Schumer's description. All that is missing is the requirement that employers use it.

Eric Trump has committed that the 500 or so companies that make up the Trump Organization will join the ranks of employers using E-Verify. President Trump should follow his son's lead and commit to a full-scale push for bipartisan legislation that would require all U.S. employers to do the same. In doing so, Congress and the administration would take an important step toward deterring illegal immigration, and would protect the jobs and wages of American workers.

As an added benefit, both Democrats and Republicans could pack the visitors' gallery at next year's State of the Union address with newly employed American workers who got jobs because employers no longer could get away with hiring illegal aliens.

R.J. Hauman is the director of government relations at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

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