Posted on February 23, 2012

Arizona Shows Pitfalls in Romney’s Proposed National E-Verify Program

Liz Goodwin, Yahoo! News, February 23, 2012

At Wednesday night’s GOP debate, Mitt Romney called Arizona a “model” for immigration enforcement, singling out the state’s 2007 law mandating that all employers use the national E-Verify database when hiring workers. He promised to institute a national E-Verify law if elected. “You do that, and just as Arizona is finding out, you can stop illegal immigration,” he said. Last May, the state defeated the Chamber of Commerce’s suit against the law in the Supreme Court.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Romney’s adviser on immigration issues, helped write Arizona’s E-Verify law as well as Arizona’s 2010 SB1070 law (Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act). At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Kobach touted what’s happened in Arizona as proof that “self-deportation” — Romney’s chosen immigration strategy — is working. “People started self-deporting by the tens of thousands,” after E-Verify passed, he said, according to the Hill.

Romney and Kobach are right that, on at least one level, the law has had a significant impact in Arizona. A study published last year by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that about 92,000, or 17 percent, of the Hispanic non-citizen population of Arizona left the state in the year after the state passed E-Verify legislation; most of those who moved were probably illegal immigrants. PPI researchers told Yahoo News that the law — not the recession, or highly-publicized raids targeting illegal immigrants — was the most likely cause of the exodus.

Yet while PPI’s research helps predict what might happen if an E-Verify system were implemented nationally, as Romney hopes, it exposes some of the less-desirable side-effects of the law as well. In Arizona, the non-citizen Hispanic workers who did stay behind increasingly shifted into a shadow economy, said Magnus Lofstrom, a co-author of the study. The self-employment rate among non-citizen Hispanics in Arizona nearly doubled post-E-Verify, and a higher proportion of people who said they were self-employed lived in poverty and lacked health insurance.

Lofstrom told Yahoo News that the informal economy would grow significantly nationwide if a national E-Verify system were established. While illegal immigrants in Arizona were able to move to other states to find work, their choices would be significantly limited if E-Verify were implemented nationally; the only real (and unlikely) option would be to for undocumented workers to move to another country. In other words, we’d be much more likely to see an increase in informal employment rather than a massive movement among illegal immigrants to “self-deport.”

What would that mean? An increase in informal employment among the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants would result in lower tax revenues — since non-self employed illegal immigrants are more likely to have taxes withheld from their paychecks — higher poverty levels among illegal immigrants, and a higher potential for employer abuse, said Lofstrom. {snip}