President Donald Trump had the crowd roaring at his rally in Green Bay last month over his jabs at Democrats for opposing his immigration agenda. He proclaimed how quickly the immigration system could be repaired if Democrats would just join him.
“I used to say in 45 minutes. It’s really 15 minutes. It’s so simple, but we need Democrats to vote on it. Otherwise we can’t change it,” Trump said.
But all the Democratic support in Congress won’t do much good if Trump himself isn’t promoting effective policies. In particular, it makes little sense for Trump to rail against illegal immigration but then fail to enlist in his fight one of the most powerful weapons the government can use to deter illegal immigration, the federal database known as E-Verify.
Many employers rely on this online network to confirm employees’ work status, but using it isn’t mandatory except for in a handful of states. Trump should demand Congress take action to require all employers use E-Verify in all 50 states – with no exceptions.
Trump mentioned E-Verify during his campaign but has been mostly silent on the issue since becoming president, obsessing instead about building a border wall. A wall, however, wouldn’t eliminate one of the driving forces behind illegal immigration: employment opportunities. E-Verify would help do that by flagging employment applicants who try to get jobs with fake identities and documents.
A 2017 Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas study examined states that require all employers to use E-Verify. It found those states had fewer illegal immigrants living and working there after E-Verify requirements took effect.
After Arizona passed an E-Verify mandate in 2008, the number of illegal immigrants working in Arizona fell by 33% below projections. And the number living there fell by 28% below projections.
In Alabama, the number of illegal immigrants working there fell by 57 percent below projections, and the number living there fell by 10 percent.
Mississippi experienced the biggest declines: The number of illegal immigrants working there fell by 83 percent below projections and the number living there by 70 percent.
Of course, these illegal immigrants didn’t necessarily leave the country. They could have easily moved to a state without an E-Verify requirement. That’s why a federal E-Verify mandate is necessary, so workers can’t escape to Wisconsin and other states with loose employment standards. Carrying out a federal E-Verify mandate would be relatively easy – a word Trump likes – because the online database already exists, and maintaining it is much cheaper than building a border wall.
To be sure, E-Verify alone won’t stop illegal immigration, and an E-Verify mandate should be coupled with reforms to allow industries that rely on illegal labor to hire more legal workers.
The Gazette Editorial Board asked Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, last month for his thoughts on passing a federal E-Verify mandate. He said he supports the idea and that he’s unsure why Congress has so far failed to take up the issue. He’s a freshman, and so we’re willing to give him time to begin advocating for an E-Verify mandate. But we hope discussions about illegal immigration begin to move past Trump’s wall obsession.
Congress should think beyond physical barriers and, more broadly, about why people risk coming to the U.S. illegally. As long as Congress continues to tolerate employers’ hiring illegal immigrants, illegal immigration will remain a problem, wall or no wall.
– Janesville Press Gazette