So I’ve worked in a rather famous hotel that touted its use of the E-Verify program near the time clock, the basement elevators, the entrance door to the HR department, and on the front desk manager’s door.
Sounds great and all-American, right?
Well, actually, this very same hotel for years has had a penchant for using sketchy labor (mainly Jamaicans and Mexicans) in nearly all of its departments.
Some seem to be “barely legal” on weird tourist and short-term work visas, while others literally sound and act like they just escaped from a shipping container in Mobile harbor.
On the E-Verify issue, it seems as if the posters are all for show, or that the hotel obtains its cheap labor from “temp agencies” run by those who would normally be termed human smugglers.
Can we just make this system mandatory and solve all our problems?
The evidence indicates a big fat no.
When federal agents raided dozens of 7-Eleven stores across the country earlier this month and arrested 21 workers suspected of being undocumented immigrants, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement director Tom Homan declared that the highly publicized raids were meant to send a message to employers: “If you are found to be breaking the law, you will be held accountable.”
But after all the smoke from the day’s fiery rhetoric cleared, one huge question remained: How did these undocumented immigrants get hired in the first place?
At a time when the national debate over immigration is at its tipping point, questions have begun to resurface about E-Verify — a 21-year-old electronic program designed to filter out undocumented immigrants who apply for jobs — leaving many Americans wondering how millions of them slip through the system.
But many immigration policy experts say E-Verify is not what it seems. They contend it’s essentially a political fig leaf, with so many significant flaws and loopholes that it allows employers to knowingly hire undocumented workers with little repercussions for doing so.
Only 3,000 of hundreds of thousands of companies enrolled in E-Verify were audited during the eight years of the Obama administration, said Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research for the Economic Policy Institute, a pro-labor think tank based in Washington, D.C.
“They continue to be able to hire undocumented workers without having to verify anything with the government,” Costa said.
With such a low chance of being audited, Costa said, E-Verify is “a wink and a nod from the government to employers” that lets them continue to hire undocumented workers.
Polls have shown that more than two-thirds of the American public believe the E-Verify should be mandatory.
Capitalizing on that sentiment, Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who sits on the House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, recently introduced a measure to require all employers to use the program. “By expanding the E-Verify system to all U.S. employers, this bill will ensure that jobs only go to legal workers,” Smith said.
But Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, a libertarian think-tank in Washington, D.C., said E-Verify simply checks documents that are submitted and accepts those documents even if they are fraudulent — which is the way most undocumented immigrants secure employment.
Even when E-verify is mandated, Nowrasteh said, “a large portion of employers still don’t use it for new hires” because the government audits are so minimal.
“People think this is going to be the way that illegal immigrants can’t work in the U.S.,” he said. “That is fantasy.”
So why does the program exist?
Nowrasteh contends it’s because E-Verify allows politicians to claim the U.S. is being tough on immigration without actually having to be tough.
I started my day thinking that a mandatory E-Verify law might just be enough to shut down the practice of pushing cheap foreign labor (a favorite activity among the 1%), but by the end of the very same day I realized that even this measure would be a stopgap at the most.