Permanent Detention, Mandatory E-Verify Proposals Bad for Taxpayers, Workers, Immigrants, and Yes, GOP Political Fortunes
It’s going to be a long, hot summer for anyone who cares about sensible immigration reform, now that Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is in charge of the House Judiciary Committee.
After guiding a trio of extremely misguided immigration proposals into law in 1996, Rep. Smith is back in the driver’s seat on immigration policy for Republicans in Congress. He’s taken the reins of the House Judiciary Committee, installing the equally anti-immigrant Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA) as chair of the Immigration Subcommittee and “livewire” Rep. Steve King (R-IA) as Subcommittee Vice-Chair. Together, the anti-immigrant “Three Amigos” are plotting to pass broad and sweeping legislation this summer on their pet issue, immigration.
The summer onslaught begins this week:
- On June 15, the House Immigration Subcommittee will hold a hearing on Smith’s bill to make the flawed E-verify program mandatory for all workers and all employers nationwide, despite serious, documented flaws with the current system. Smith plans to mark-up the legislation in the full Judiciary Committee the following week.
- Later on this summer, the full House Judiciary Committee will mark-up a bill that gives the government broad, unchecked powers to lock up many types of immigrants, including asylum-seekers, and throw away the key.
Given Smith’s role in designing the current broken immigration system, anyone who cares about smart and effective use of taxpayer resources, solving problems, and real progress rather than “politics as usual,” should be concerned about what Smith, Gallegly, and King have in store. They are putting blind adherence to ideology over the good of the country and advancing legislation that would have dangerous implications for American workers, businesses, taxpayers, and the very values upon which this country was founded.
They are also putting narrow ideology over their own long-term political self-interests. Rep. Lamar Smith has done more to influence the politics of immigration than anyone else in Congress today. Unfortunately for the GOP, his main achievement has been to drive a wedge between the GOP and Latino voters, which cost the GOP dearly in recent elections and which will devastate the Party in coming years unless and until it reverses course on immigration.
Read on for more information about Smith’s permanent detention bill, his massively flawed E-verify plan, and why the GOP would be wise to stop following Lamar Smith’s advice on the issue of immigration reform.
ATTACK #1: CREATING A COSTLY IMMIGRATION GULAG
Lamar Smith’s detention bill, H.R. 1932, would create an immigration gulag where immigrants would be spirited away for prolonged and even permanent detention with no hearing or due process protections whatsoever. The bill purports to target hardened criminals, but in fact sweeps up innocent asylum-seekers fleeing persecution and long-term lawful permanent residents who, due to Smith’s harsh 1996 laws, are facing deportation due to minor and non-violent crimes they may have committed decades ago.
Smith claims he is trying to address a real problem where certain countries refuse to accept their own nationals who have been issued deportation orders. But Smith’s bill never addresses this actual issue, and ignores ideas like the new DOS and DHS collaboration to compel better international cooperation by imposing stiffer sanctions on such countries.
Immigration detention already costs the U.S. taxpayer nearly $2 billion per year. These costs would expand exponentially if Rep. Smith’s bill were to become the law of the land. Clearly, Rep. Smith is not interested in constructive solutions. He’s interested in tightening the screws on all immigrants.
ATTACK #2: E-VERIFY: HARMING U.S. WORKERS AND DEALING ANOTHER BLOW TO THE U.S. ECONOMY
The E-Verify legislation to be introduced by Rep. Smith on June 13th would force every member of the U.S. workforce, American citizens and non-citizen workers alike, to ask a deeply flawed government database for permission to work. Smith’s bill focuses its burdens on the wrong targets – namely legal American workers – while driving undocumented workers further into the underground economy, and not out of the U.S., as Smith hopes. As a result, mandatory E-Verify will result in the loss of billions of dollars in tax revenue as more jobs would move into the unregulated cash economy.
Smith’s motivation? He wants to expel 8 million undocumented immigrants out of the formal labor market in hopes they will go home. The strategy is called “attrition through enforcement.” This is the wrong direction if we as a society are serious about solving illegal immigration. Requiring the currently flawed E-Verify to be used nationwide, while doing nothing to legalize the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country or facilitating an orderly flow of legal immigrant workers, would impose a damaging burden on American workers, businesses, and taxpayers while making the existing problems of the broken immigration system worse.
The problems would be particularly acute in key economic sectors such as agriculture – mandatory E-Verify would be so devastating to American agriculture that it would force more and more food production overseas, to the detriment of American jobs, regional economic stability, and food safety.
- By the government’s own statistics, E-verify works less than 50% of time – the rest of the time the documents provided by “illegal” workers will make it through the verification system.
- Due to the error rate of the program, the government estimates that mandatory E-verify will force approximately 3.6 million workers to try to get their records corrected by a government agency or lose their jobs. These errors put an enormous burden on workers and can result in loss of wages, adverse action by employers, and loss of employment. The Government Accounting Office called the process of fixing government database errors “formidable.” SSA is so overloaded with work now that in 2010 3.3 million visitors to their field offices left without receiving service.
- The government also estimates that 770,000 workers would likely lose their jobs due to bureaucratic mistakes that will further inconvenience legal workers. Already in FY10, it is estimated that 80,000 workers lost their jobs due to E-Verify.
- Making E-Verify mandatory will hurt small businesses, which employ over 50 percent of the U.S. workforce and have generated 64 percent of net new jobs over the last 15 years. According to data compiled by Bloomberg, if E-Verify were mandatory in fiscal year 2010, it would have cost small businesses $2.6 billion.
- Up to 75 percent of the U.S. agricultural labor force is comprised of unauthorized workers. Even in this difficult economy, experts agree that Americans are not going to return to the fields to pick crops if we force out 3 million agriculture workers.
- The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says we would lose at least $17 billion in tax revenue as jobs move into cash economy – a shift E-Verify would mandate.
- Georgia enacted a state E-Verify last month. On June 8, 2011, Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, “Nearly half of the 132 Georgia businesses polled in a private survey this month say they are experiencing agricultural labor shortages. And of those who reported shortages to the Georgia Agribusiness Council, more than a third said immigrants are concerned about the state’s new anti-illegal immigration law.”
- A June 2011 study released by UC Davis and the US Department of Agriculture found that enforcement of laws like E-Verify “could significantly boost labor costs for California’s $20 billion fresh fruit, nut and vegetable crops.”
HURTING THE COUNTRY, HURTING THE GOP
It is hard to understand why Republican leadership continue to let Smith and his side-kicks, Elton Gallegly (R-CA) and Steve King (R-IA) run the show at a time when the Party is at a crisis point with Latino voters. If they needed any more evidence they are on the wrong track, Sharron Angle’s abysmal 8% showing with Latinos in 2010 should have been enough to convince the GOP that following the Smith approach to immigration politics is downright deadly for the Republican Party.
Despite assertions to the contrary from Rep. Smith and anti-immigration “think tanks” like the Center for Immigration Studies, Latino voters see immigration as a key priority and threshold issue when voting. A recent report by Latino Decisions shows that immigration is currently the top issue of concern for a decisive majority of Latino voters.
Only a GOP that continues to bury its head so deeply in the sand will fail to recognize that Latino voters and Republican demagoguery on the immigration issue were a key factor in the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006; President Obama’s victory and congressional Democrats’ success in 2008; and in keeping the Senate in Democratic hands in 2010.
Rep. Smith’s summer attack on immigrants will not go unnoticed by the Latino electorate. Will the GOP leadership wake up and rein Smith in, or will they allow him to drive the Latino vote firmly to Democratic candidates in 2012, while destroying families and communities in the process?