Attrition Works, Respected Think Tank Edition

By Mark Krikorian on March 16, 2011

The Public Policy Institute of California is about as respectably mainstream (i.e. liberal) as a think tank can get. Its board of advisors includes people from all the state's commanding heights: the teacher’s union and Disney, SEIU and Sun Microsystems, the Bank of America and the ACLU, Goldman, Sachs and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Its publications are routinely published in Spanish and on immigration its work has generally reflected the bien-pensant consensus that more is better.

Which is why its latest report is so arresting.

"Lessons from the 2007 Legal Arizona Workers Act" finds that the state's law requiring the use of E-Verify for all new hires actually worked: "Arizona's unauthorized immigrant population shrank after employers were required to verify workers' legal status with the federal E-Verify system. … Arizona's population of unauthorized immigrants of working age fell by about 17 percent, or about 92,000 people, as a result of the Legal Arizona Workers Act (LAWA)."

An additional finding is also important: while many left the state, a smaller number of the illegal aliens who couldn't find work became self-employed, some presumably in the underground economy. The relative scale is encouraging, because far more people fled the state than stayed to work in black market jobs. But this does point to the fact that E-Verify, while a powerful tool, is not a silver bullet — we still need state and local police partnering with immigration authorities, proof of legal presence to get a driver's license or insurance or a mortgage or a bank account, and the other elements of an attrition policy designed to make it impractical to live here illegally.

The report also points out the need for follow-through on state (or even federal) E-Verify mandates:

Arizona's experience contains important lessons for other states enacting, or considering, similar legislation. Because the initial effectiveness of LAWA appears to operate through a high rate of employer E-Verify compliance, other states may wish to pay particular attention to ensuring employer participation in their efforts. Furthermore, the initial effects of the legislation are unlikely to persist if actors in the labor market learn that there are no consequences from violating these laws. Hence, for long-term effectiveness, policymakers should also consider the role of employer sanctions, which have not played a large role in Arizona's results so far.

Good advice indeed, but the first step is to legislate mandatory E-Verify. Faster, please.

Topics: E-Verify