Two of the masterminds behind the GOP’s mass deportation (of immigrants) strategy, Representatives Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and Elton Gallegly (R-CA), chairman of the Immigration Subcommittee, are introducing new legislation intended to bring about their extremist fantasy: the expulsion of 11 million undocumented immigrants and their families. That’s what their whole “enforcement only” approach is all about – tighten the screws on immigrant families while blocking any hope of being able to legalize their status.
The Republicans’ dark vision for immigration “reform” isn’t playing well with Latino voters. But in addition to alienating Latinos, Smith and Gallegly are on a path that will also hurt U.S. workers and key industries — like agriculture — by forcing all employers to use the flawed E-Verify system when evaluating whether an employee is legal to work.
In a recent op-ed, the duo tries to sell E-Verify as a “successful tool for employers.” With a fail rate of 50%, E-Verify is anything but successful. We all want to crack down on unscrupulous employers who take advantage of workers, but that’s not what E-Verify does. Instead, E-Verify will give bad employers even more control over desperate workers who move off the books and into the cash economy, reducing tax revenue and expanding the exploitation of workers.
The consequences of mandatory E-Verify aren’t limited to immigrant workers. The Smith/Gallegly E-Verify plan would cause almost 800,000 Americans to lose their jobs due to errors in the government databases; force an additional 4 million legal workers into an administrative quagmire; create an undue burden on small businesses; nearly wipe out the agricultural workforce; and result in loss of tax revenue, increasing the deficit.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concluded that mandatory, nationwide E-Verify would cost us $17.3 billion over 10 years because it would increase the number of undocumented workers being paid outside the tax system. Just implementing the program, according to the CBO, would cost $23 billion over ten years.
Mandatory E-Verify would also have a devastating impact on industries that rely on immigrant labor, like agriculture. By cracking down on immigrant farm workers, Smith and Gallegly’s vision would lead to the exportation of farms and jobs and the increased importation of food from foreign sources. The loss of on-farm jobs would also have a domino effect: 3.2 million non-agriculture jobs depend on the agriculture industry.
All these problems, and the program only identifies undocumented workers 50% of the time. Despite all this, there is a real possibility that some version of E-Verify will advance, especially in the House of Representatives.
The Smith/Gallegly strategy is to ignore the faults and cost of the system, its impact on the economy, and its burden on U.S. workers—and insist that E-Verify will “free up” jobs and force undocumented immigrants to “deport themselves.” The reality is that most undocumented immigrants will remain here, even more in the shadows of the underground economy, subject to exploitation and reduced labor standards that impact everyone.
What’s frustrating is that there’s a better solution staring Smith and Gallegly right in the face. Comprehensive immigration reform, which would combine border and workplace enforcement with a program to require undocumented immigrants to register for legal status, would raise wages and labor standards for all workers, boost tax revenues, and gut the underground economy. This is a fiscally responsible solution—and a practical alternative to the Smith-Gallegly mass deportation fantasy. What’s more, a majority of Americans support it.
The Smith-Gallegly plan will only make a bad situation worse. Throughout the summer, we will be pointing out that Smith and Gallegly are wrong on the politics and wrong on the facts. We will also be pointing out their rank hypocrisy. House Republicans benefit from immigrant labor every time they eat a Georgia peach, go to a restaurant, leave their children with the nanny, or build an addition onto their homes. Undocumented immigrants are present in every state, in every sector of the economy. It’s time that Republicans in Congress admit this simple fact, and support a plan that gives immigrants the respect they deserve and enacts a real solution for taxpayers and workers.