By Robert Robb
The Republic | azcentral.com
The immigration-reform framework revealed this week by a bipartisan group of senators, including Arizona’s John McCain and Jeff Flake, has been widely hailed as a good starting point for action.
Politically, that may be the case. It broke the barriers of Republicans not wanting to talk about the subject and Democrats using it as a political issue rather than a problem to be solved.
Substantively, however, the framework isn’t a good place to begin. In fact, it is a terrible place to begin. And I say that as someone who supports immediate legal status for most of those currently in the country illegally.
The last amnesty didn’t fail, as commonly asserted, because enforcement wasn’t tried. It failed because, in 1986, the technology didn’t exist to make effective enforcement possible. Today, it does.
The key to controlling illegal immigration is to lock illegal workers out of the formal economy. Today, the federal government has an electronic database employers can access, E-Verify, to determine legal eligibility of their workers.
The only way for an illegal worker to beat the system is to provide the name and Social Security number of a real person who is eligible. That’s identity theft. And it’s a particularly stupid crime because the government knows where you work.
Congress could largely shut down illegal immigration by requiring that all employers use E-Verify, which is currently voluntary, and instructing Social Security and immigration officials to share information on dodgy work accounts and deport those who cheat.
Immigration reform should begin by coupling mandatory use of E-Verify with providing legal status for most of those currently here illegally.
The framework proposal, however, doesn’t begin with making E-Verify mandatory. Instead, it says that a new, better electronic verification system will be created and made mandatory. When? The framework doesn’t say.
Forget the border-security trigger or the doubtful promise of keeping immigrants from overstaying their visas. Politicians who are unwilling to use existing technology right now to lock illegal workers out of the formal economy aren’t serious about truly controlling illegal immigration before granting amnesty.
Nor does the framework make the fundamental change needed in our legal immigration system from being almost exclusively family-based to being more skill-based. On this score, the framework represents a giant step backward from where immigration reform left off, with the compromise negotiated by former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl and Ted Kennedy.
Instead, the framework simply accelerates family-based immigration without limiting it to nuclear family members in the future. And it just tacks on some targeted skill-based categories to the existing system, rather than fundamentally changing the orientation.
The framework also gives short shrift to the economic well-being of low-skilled native- born workers. The wages for low-skilled jobs are stagnant or declining. That’s market evidence of a surplus of such labor, not a shortage.
Nevertheless, the framework provides for the continuous importation of large numbers of low-skilled workers. Worse, it allows employers, not labor markets, to set the wages for low-skilled jobs.
If an employer advertises a low-skilled job and no one applies, he won’t have to increase the wage offered until there’s an applicant. Instead, he can import a low-skilled worker at the wage offered. Moreover, the imported worker is given a pathway to citizenship, increasing the permanent pool of low-skilled workers and further depressing their wages.
Except for agriculture, it’s simply untrue that illegal immigrants take jobs Americans won’t do. And even if they do, wage data indicate there’s always more than enough of them in the country.
Unfortunately, there probably isn’t anyone in Congress willing to do comprehensive immigration reform right, including legalization and a path to citizenship. Those who oppose the framework are likely to oppose legalization or prefer a piecemeal approach.
Despite the huzzah, the country probably faces the choice of a bad immigration bill or none at all.