One of the most salient features of U.S. immigration policy for more than 35 years has been the inability of Congress and the executive branch to establish an effective, fraud-resistant system to verify that employees are authorized to work here.
That long-running failure — due to resistance from ethnic interest groups, business organizations, and civil libertarians as well as a lack of federal commitment — doomed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.
IRCA, as the legislation was known, was sold to the American people as a compromise that would combine the compassion of sweeping legalization for illegal immigrants with the firmness of worksite controls that would prevent another wave of illegal immigration. That very same promise lies at the heart of the immigration reform bill that the Senate passed in June.
An upcoming CIS report will investigate the history of that failure. It will also examine the ongoing effort of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to fortify the Senate bill's E-Verify system. Portman believes that unless that happens, any new immigration reform will be overwhelmed by fraud, just as the 1986 Act has been.
Portman's concern makes sense to me. That's why I was so interested in one of the findings of a blue-ribbon panel of U.S. and Mexican immigration scholars whose work was discussed Thursday at the Wilson Center in Washington.
This is what they wrote in a report that outlines work that will be presented in a full scholarly volume that is yet to be published:
Mexico — U.S. ﬂows correlate, above all, with U.S. labor demand. The single most important policy change leading to a long-term decline in undocumented immigration should consist of comprehensive immigration enforcement at the workplace.
The timing for an increase in enforcement is delicate. Access to legalization must be provided before workers are excluded from jobs. But the era of easy, penalty-free employment of undocumented workers must come to an end in order to ensure a large undocumented population does not grow again — and that delinquent employers do not enjoy an unfair advantage.
The scholarly coordination was led by immigration experts from Georgetown University and from Mexico's Center for Research and Higher Learning in Social Anthropology (known as CIESAS for its initials in Spanish).
In addition to employment, the report's subject areas include: education, health, return migration to Mexico, immigration policy, and an area labeled "fear, insecurity, and migration".