Last month, the House of Representatives voted to pass HR 2, the “Securing Borders Act.” 219 Republicans in the House of Representatives voted for; 211 Democrats and 2 Republicans voted against. One of its provisions, as rated by the Congressional Budget Office, is that it would “require all U.S. employers to use E-Verify, the federal web-based system for confirming work eligibility.” This provision alone would hamper one of the best features of the US economy, the relatively free labor market.
If this bill passes the Senate and is signed by the President, then when employers want to hire someone who is not currently working for them, they must ensure that person is eligible to work. This would, presumably, mean that the worker is a US citizen or permanent resident. When I met my congressman, Sam Farr, a few years ago (he’s now retired), he said he opposed such a provision, but his opposition was based on how it would hurt Latinos in his district and those of other members of Congress. I pointed out to him that it would hurt everyone. An employer who wants to hire someone, Latino or not, should check with the federal government first.
You might say it’s okay because if you have a green card or are a US citizen, you’ll pass the test. But to that I have two answers, one short-term and one long-term.
In the short term, a pertinent question is: Does the federal government ever make mistakes? Can we be sure that every green card holder or US citizen will be in the database? The answer is no. There will be people in those categories who can’t get the job. How much? Of course, not many. So that would slow the labor market down a bit.
The biggest problem is long term. Governments often promise to keep a small program and rarely keep their promises. To take an example, when the USA PATRIOT Act was passed, the federal government was given tools to prosecute terrorists. Does he ever use these powers against people who are clearly not terrorists? Yes.
Here’s how my Hoover colleague John Cochrane put it in a 2013 op/ed in the the wall street journal:
E-Verify may seem harmless now, but missions are still crawling and bureaucracies are growing. Suppose a person convicted of viewing child pornography is found teaching. There is a hype. The government has this pre-employment screening system. Surely we should link E-Verify to the criminal records of pedophiles? How about all the criminal records? We don’t want alcoholic airline pilots, disbarred doctors, fraudulent bankers, etc. sneaking around.
Then E-Verify will be attractive as a way to enforce hundreds of other employment laws and regulations. In the age of big data, the government can easily electronically verify age, union membership, education, employment history, and whether you have paid income taxes and purchased health insurance.
How about this idea? Let’s allow more legal immigrants. We win and they win. And, as a side benefit, we especially need it now that the Social Security Fund will likely run out of money in 2033. Remember that the vast majority of immigrants are young. Letting them in would save us a few years.