Posted on May 23, 2018

Trump Is ‘Very Weak’ on This One Popular Way to Curb Illegal Immigration

Tracy Jan, Washington Post, May 22, 2018

In President Donald Trump’s many vocal pronouncements about stopping illegal immigration, one solution he promoted during the campaign has been conspicuously missing: a requirement that employers check whether workers are legal.

Eight states require nearly all employers to use the federal government’s online “E-Verify” tool to check whether new hires are eligible to work in the U.S., but efforts to expand the mandate to all states have stalled, despite polls showing widespread support and studies showing it reduces unauthorized workers.

The campaign for a national mandate has withered amid what appears to be a more pressing problem — a historic labor shortage that has businesses across the country desperate for workers, at restaurants, farms and in other low-wage jobs.


Donald Trump says illegal immigrants should no longer be allowed to obtain work permits in the United States after reports suggested the numbers crossing the Mexican border are rising. {snip} On Twitter, Trump called on Republican congressman to “go nuclear” to stop the flow. He wants to fulfill a campaign promise to make Mexico pay for a frontier wall.


With the unemployment rate at a 17-year low and a Trump administration crackdown on foreign workers, lawmakers are reluctant to champion legislation that could exacerbate the labor shortage and hurt business constituents — even one aimed at illegal workers that’s popular among a broad swath of Americans.


Despite his administration’s “Hire American” rhetoric, Trump and the GOP leadership have gone quiet on mandating E-Verify, draining momentum from a top policy goal of grass-roots Republicans.

“The president has been very weak on this subject. Even though he’s not pushing hard for it, and even though the Republican leadership has been really sluggish on this, the Republican Party as a whole is overwhelmingly for this,” said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, an organization that has campaigned for a national E-Verify mandate since 1996 in its quest for reduced immigration.

“Allowing businesses to employ people illegally is like the government leaving the keys in an unlocked car,” Beck said. “You’re going to get a lot of stolen cars.”

E-Verify has proved effective at keeping immigrants who are in the country illegally from taking American jobs. {snip}

The federal employment verification system, introduced more than 20 years ago, has wide public support. Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed last fall by The Washington Post and ABC News support requiring employers to verify new hires are legally living in the United States — more than double the support for building a wall along the Mexico border.


Trump last October listed E-Verify among his immigration priorities and in February, requested $23 million in his 2019 budget proposal to expand the program for mandatory nationwide use. He uses E-Verify at his golf club in North Carolina, where the worker checks are required by state law, as well as other entities in Chicago, Miami and New York, according to an E-Verify database of participating employers.


And Trump has yet to use the platform of the presidency to rally support for a national requirement, opting instead to push for building a wall, militarizing the border and stepping up deportations.

The labor shortage in industries that most depend upon undocumented workers — like agriculture, construction and hospitality — is driving up wages and deterring state authorities from rigorous enforcement of state E-Verify laws, factors that analysts say complicate any national campaign.

There is just one unemployed person for every job opening in the country, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the lowest since the government began tracking this information in 2000.

“If you cut off the labor supply like these laws do, you are going to see employers get desperate when it becomes a lot more difficult to hire, and if businesses are following the law, they have to raise wages,” said Pia Orrenius, senior economist at the Dallas Fed who found that states with universal E-Verify requirements typically saw substantial reductions in the number of unauthorized workers.

Orrenius’s research has shown that E-Verify mandates resulted in increased wages for low-skilled workers born in the United States or otherwise naturalized. In the states that have mandated near-universal E-Verify, the average hourly wages of unauthorized Mexican men fell nearly 8 percent after the requirement went into effect, while wages for U.S. born and naturalized Hispanic men rose between 7 and 9 percent.


Even with the threat of fines or losing their business licenses, some employers in mandatory E-Verify states are not complying with the program because states have shied away from enforcement actions for fear of alienating business owners.


“There’s no enforcement,” said Bruce Dusenberry, former president and chief executive of Horizon Moving Systems before he sold it in 2013 to focus on commercial industrial real estate in Arizona.

“If employers were required to follow the law just like they scream about immigrants following the law, it would reduce the demand,” said Dusenberry, who supports a national E-Verify mandate. “We wouldn’t need the military going down to the border.”

Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at Cato, said states have been reluctant to crack down hard because legislators know businesses will suffer. His analyses have shown that compliance rates in South Carolina fall when the unemployment rate falls.


Conservative members who represent rural farming districts, as well as Democrats, have said they will support a national E-Verify mandate only if it comes with the guarantee of a robust agricultural guest worker program and protection of existing workers who are in the country illegally.


Nationally, 10 percent of U.S. employers are enrolled in E-Verify. The eight states that require nearly all employers to use the system are: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.

California, a self-declared “sanctuary state” for undocumented immigrants, prohibits state agencies and municipalities from mandating E-Verify.