One of the most tired clichés of the immigration debate is that “immigrants do the jobs Americans won’t do.” With 16 million Americans out of work, this justification for not enforcing our immigration laws rings hollower than ever.
There are an estimated 7-8 million illegal aliens in the workforce. Virtually all of them are in unskilled sectors such as agriculture, food service and preparation, and construction; which also have extremely high levels of native born unemployment.
Freeing up those jobs for Americans should be common sense during a recession.
Hiring illegal aliens is already a crime under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, but neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama enforced this law. Part of the problem is that it is easy for “undocumented” immigrants to get fake documents. Under the current system, an honest employer may be duped into hiring or an illegal, while unscrupulous businesses can intentionally look the other way and plead ignorance if they get caught.
In 1996, Congress created the E-Verify program to help close this loophole. E-Verify is an electronic system that allows an employer to enter the social security or alien registration number of a potential employee. This gets checked against a government database to confirm whether an employee is here legally within minutes. When I served in Congress I cosponsored a number of pieces of legislation to mandate E-Verify nationwide.
These bills never made it through Congress, so states and localities began to do the job the federal government wouldn’t do. In 2006, Hazleton, PA, under the leadership of their mayor Lou Barletta, passed the Illegal Immigration Relief Act. The next year, Arizona passed the Legal Arizona Worker Act (LAWA.) Following Arizona’s lead, Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma, Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, and many other states passed their own E-Verify laws.
Predictably, the ACLU sued Hazleton and the Chamber of Commerce sued Arizona on the grounds that states were preempted from enforcing immigration law.
In May, the Supreme Court ruled that LAWA was constitutional in Chamber of Commerce vs. Whiting. The next week, they upheld the Hazleton law. This opens the door for even more states to pass E-Verify laws when they go back in session.