Immigration proposal flawed

By Robert Robb
The Republic |

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.


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