Linda Chavez

Conservative columnist Ann Coulter has some advice for GOP presidential hopefuls: Hang tough on illegal immigration. Coulter sees illegal immigration as one of the two signature issues of the Republican presidential campaign (the other being repeal of Obamacare). Coulter predicts that if the candidates fail to be sufficiently hard-line, they'll invite future political suicide: "... Capitulate on illegal immigration, and the entire country will have the electorate of California."

Her column is not only lousy advice; it speaks volumes about how little she understands immigration policy.

Coulter's know-nothing attitude is best summed up by her solution to the illegal alien problem: "Among the most effective measures against illegal immigration is E-Verify, the Homeland Security program that gives employers the ability to instantly confirm that their employees' Social Security numbers are legitimate. It is more than 99 percent accurate, and no employee is denied a job without an opportunity to challenge the records."

In fact, the failure rate for identifying illegal workers under E-Verify is almost 50 percent. The most comprehensive study of the program, performed for the Department of Homeland Security in 2010, found that the program worked well only in identifying people who were eligible to work because they were U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Coulter's 99 percent figure comes from this subset.

But the whole point of the program is not to identify people who are eligible to work but to weed out those who aren't. And here, the program fails miserably. According to the study, of the estimated 6 percent of all workers who were illegal immigrants, E-Verify missed almost half -- 2.9 percent.

The reason is simple: Illegal immigrants are enterprising, or they wouldn't be here in the first place. All employers (including those who hire a babysitter for more than a few hours or someone to cut their grass on a regular basis or clean their house) are required to fill out government forms verifying eligibility to work. As a result, most illegal immigrants present false Social Security cards, which they can easily buy on the black market for about a hundred dollars.

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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