October 7, 2008 | Executive Summary on Immigration
The majority of persons who enter the U.S. illegally or unlawfully overstay temporary visas do so for purposes of employment. Employment of such individuals has been illegal since 1986, although that law has never been seriously enforced. If access to employment were curtailed in accord with that law, many (probably even a large majority) of current illegal immigrants would leave the country voluntarily, and the number of future illegal entrants would be greatly reduced.
Since employment is the magnet that draws illegal immigrants into the U.S., it follows that the best way to reduce illegal immigration is to shrink the employment magnet. To accomplish this without rounding up and deporting thousands of illegal workers only to have them return and obtain another readily available job, policy should focus on the businesses that hire illegal immigrants and let general employment rules rather than individual arrests drive the reduction in illegal immigration.
The policy should be based on the principles of empowerment, deterrence,and information. The policy should empower honest employers by giving them the tools to determine quickly and accurately whether a prospective employee is an authorized worker. It should hold employers free from penalty if they inadvertently hire an illegal worker after following the prescribed procedures.
Further, the policy should empower honest employers by freeing them from the burden of competing with dishonest businesses that deliberately hire illegal workers. This means that it must deter dishonest employers who willfully employ unverified and unlawful workers by imposing substantial penalties on the employers when such hiring occurs. For deterrence to work, however, both the government and employers must have timely and accurate information regarding job applicants.
The most promising solution to this problem is E-Verify. A real-time, Web-based verification system run by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration, E-Verify can determine with great accuracy the authenticity of the personal information and credentials offered by new hires. In most cases, verification occurs almost instantly.
To achieve sound verification and enforcement policy to reduce unlawful employment, and thereby illegal immigration, Congress must:
It is time for Congress to keep its promises and achieve the goal it set 20 years ago. Our political leaders cannot hide behind the "it needs further improvement" mantra forever, because doing so is the functional equivalent of not enforcing the prohibition against hiring illegals in the first place.
E-Verify is the most promising, effective, and useful employment verification tool in use today. Congress should reauthorize E-Verify as it currently exists and work to expand its reach and efficacy significantly in recognition of the fact that the law prohibits employers from hiring illegal immigrants and that the objective of E-Verify is to enforce that law.
Robert Rector is Senior Research Fellow in Domestic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.