Commentary

Oregonians Should Say ‘No’ to E-Verify Initiative

This November, Oregon voters may decide whether to tie up their state with more red tape. Initiative Petition 52, also known as the Oregon Employment Protection Act, seeks to force all businesses to use a federal database called E-Verify to check the identities of all new hires with the goal of excluding illegal immigrants from the job market.

E-Verify has been an expensive failure in other states. Oregon should learn from those mistakes.

According to Oregonians for Immigration Reform, mandated E-Verify “is a necessary step in preserving job opportunities for citizens and legal immigrants.” That’s an expensive fantasy. In reality, E-Verify is like a Department of Motor Vehicles for the labor market, whereby workers will have to get government permission to work and employers to hire. If mandated, new hires would have to hand over their identity information to prospective employers, who then run it through the E-Verify system.

E-Verify is an ineffective and expensive government regulation that will do more harm than good.

The system is also difficult to use. E-Verify’s supporters won’t tell you that it requires an employer to read and understand an 88-page government manual to properly run it. Oregon business owners have more important things to do than read another government manual telling them how to run their companies and how to handle their employees’ sensitive private information.

Worse than the privacy intrusion and red tape, E-Verify would deny a small percentage of legal Oregonians a job. According to the most recent audit of E-Verify, anywhere from 0.3 percent to 0.7 percent of all E-Verify searches erroneously flagged legal workers as illegal. Those numbers may look small, but if the 2.35 million Oregonians in the workforce were run through E-Verify then 7,000 to 16,500 would be initially denied a job due to errors in the system. That’s a high price to pay for forcing an estimated 120,000 illegal immigrants out of the state.

On top of that, E-Verify doesn’t nullify the wage magnet that attracts illegal immigrants in the first place. Arizona, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina have mandated E-Verify for all workers and the results are dismal. For example, Mexican immigrants receive a 253 percent wage bump by coming to the United States. Switching off the job magnet requires lowering that economic gain enough so that the costs of immigrating to the United States are at least as great as the benefits. In Arizona E-Verify lowered that wage gain to 240 percent, barely diminishing the magnet.

E-Verify fails to turn off the jobs magnet for many reasons. The first is that states with mandates for all new hires don’t enforce it. In 2014, only 58 percent of all new hires were even run through the system in Arizona — and that was the highest rate among the states! The use rates for businesses in Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina were 44 percent, 56 percent and 54 percent, respectively.

The second reason E-Verify is such a failure is that it only identifies a bare majority of illegal immigrants who are actually run through the system, according to some recent audits. The availability of fake or stolen IDs, off-the-books illegal hiring and other paperwork schemes make E-Verify an ineffective mess.

Even with all of those problems, E-Verify did decrease the illegal immigrant population in those states somewhat. Economists at the Public Policy Institute of California estimate that E-Verify in Arizona decreased the number of illegal immigrants by 17 percent in the state with nearly the same amount leaving due to the poor economy.

Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi had a 12 percent decrease in the number of undocumented immigrants after they mandated E-Verify — but only some of those can be blamed on the system. If the same percentage of illegal immigrants left those states because of E-Verify as did in Arizona, E-Verify decreased their numbers by 5 percent in those states. Those results are not worth an intrusive new government regulation.

E-Verify is an ineffective and expensive government regulation that will do more harm than good. Illegal immigration is a problem, but flawed systems like E-Verify are not the answer.

Oregonians should learn from the experiences of other states and reject mandated E-Verify.

Alex Nowrasteh is the immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.