Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission, a group that meets every 20 years to recommend changes to Florida’s state constitution, yesterday rejected a proposal to add mandatory E-Verify to the ballot next November. The American Business Immigration Coalition and Immigration Partnership & Coalition Fund led the fight against the proposal (full disclosure: those groups used Cato's research in their efforts to stop E-Verify and I did have contact with them during the Florida debate). The most convincing arguments against E-Verify were those that highlighted its inaccuracies, potential damage to the economy, and that it would not even effectively restrict illegal immigrant access to employment.
Just to recap, E-Verify is a federal electronic eligibility for employment verification system whereby employers are supposed to check the identities of new hires against government databases to guarantee that they are legally eligible to work. Four states have mandated E-Verify for all new hires, several other states have mandated it for some hires, and the federal government requires it for some occupations.
Democrats and Republicans have both embraced E-Verify for different reasons in recent years. Republicans did so because they believe that it is a useful enforcement mechanism and Democrats because they believe that they can trade it for a more generous legalization or other reforms to the legal immigration system. Indeed, increasingly bitter partisan disagreements over immigration policy have not affected support for E-Verify. Perhaps they should.
There are many good reasons for Democrats to oppose E-Verify nationally and on the state level. The first is that E-Verify is an immigration enforcement tool that disproportionately returns incorrect results for legal immigrants, Hispanic Americans, and those who have hyphenated last names (most likely to be women). An incorrect result can temporarily bar a worker from working or, if the proper legal procedures aren’t followed, push the worker afflicted into long-term unemployment. Democrats increasingly argue that they represent those three groups so they have political incentives to remove regulatory barriers that keep them from gaining employment.
The second reason is that a nationwide E-Verify mandate could disproportionately harm employment and communities in areas controlled by the Democratic Party. Over half of all illegal immigrants and their American families live in the 20 largest metropolitan areas in the United States that are near-unanimously controlled by Democrats. About 37 percent of all illegal immigrants and their American families live in the four largest Democratic states of California, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. Even if E-Verify doesn’t harm employment in those areas, it does raise the cost of employment.
Third, Democrats should come out against E-Verify to, at a minimum, get more concessions from Republicans for expanding legal immigration or expanding any future legalization. President Obama’s tactic of rhetorically embracing E-Verify, or at least the idea of it, did not get restrictionist Republicans to concede any policy points so Democrats should try the opposite approach and oppose it until the other side gives something up.
Ideologically, conservatives and Republicans also have many good reasons to oppose E-Verify. First, Americans should not have to ask the government for permission to work. Second, E-Verify is an expensive government regulation that fails to stop the hiring of illegal immigrants and the federal government should not force businesses to enforce its own laws. Third, Democrats will eventually figure out that they can use E-Verify for their own purposes (such as creating a backdoor gun registry) and Republicans can only prevent the perversion of the system for those purposes by opposing the continued existence of the program in the first place.
If state governments rescind E-Verify mandates or the federal government ever refuses to reauthorize it then both sides can plausibly claim a victory. Democrats can say that they helped protect their constituents, such as the American family members of illegal immigrants, from an unreasonable amount of immigration enforcement and Republicans can argue that they removed a government regulation that would eventually be turned against them.
Congress has to reauthorize E-Verify every few years and most of the time there is little debate over the wisdom of the program. Next time it comes up for a reauthorization vote, Democrats and Republicans both have many reasons to vote against reauthorizing the program or, at a minimum, to ask more questions about it rather than applying a rubber stamp.