Border Bill — Boob Bait for Bubba

By Mark Krikorian on January 28, 2015

A recent poll that found wide opposition to Obama's lawless amnesty decrees and support for defunding efforts also asked a third question: "Would you support or oppose Congress passing new legislation that strengthen the rules making it illegal for businesses in the U.S. to hire illegal immigrants?" Support for this was overwhelming, 71–21, far greater than the other questions (strongly support/oppose was 45 percent to 9 percent). The crosstabs show that every demographic group, without exception, supported making it harder to hire illegal aliens — liberal and conservative; Republican and Democrat; black, white, and Hispanic; Protestant, Catholic, and Jew; rich and poor; blue-collar and white-collar; urban and rural; old and young — everybody.

So why did the House leadership try to fast-track a border bill (which has been at least temporarily derailed because immigration hawks objected to its phoniness) instead of passing an E-Verify mandate? E-Verify enables employers filing the payroll paperwork for new hires to check online (for free) whether the new hires are lying about who they are. (You can even E-Verify yourself to make sure Social Security has your information right.) It goes a long way toward turning off the jobs magnet for illegals, though some still slip through. It is now voluntary, though widely used; last time I checked, it looked like about one-third of new hires were being E-Verified.

A phased-in mandate for all employers to use E-Verify has been included in a number of proposed bills, either as part of "comprehensive" abominations like the Schumer-Rubio Gang of Eight bill or as standalone measures. In fact, the House Judiciary Committee actually approved a free-standing E-Verify bill in the last Congress.

Such a measure would have much to recommend it, both politically and as a policy matter. It would be popular, as the polling above shows. It would shift some of the focus from individual, often sympathetic, foreigners to employers, while at the same time enabling legitimate employers to comply with the law. It would strike an important blow against identity theft and fraud. And it would provide greater marginal enforcement benefit than more money spent at the border, where so much has already been spent.

So why did Speaker Boehner start the new Congress with McCaul's border bill rather than an E-Verify measure?

I think for two related reasons: First, border measures are telegenic and are thought to convey toughness. Look! More fences! More drones! Squirrel! (Any politician who talks about drones on the border is full of it; they're not very useful.) It's a shiny object to divert attention from the GOP leadership's eagerness to surrender to Obama on his lawless amnesty decrees — and to distract from that same leadership's chief goal, which is increasing immigration, especially of indentured guestworkers. The second reason is that the donor class will only accept universal use of E-Verify as a price paid for increased — preferably unlimited — access to cheap labor from abroad. The billionaires' message: no immigration increases, no E-Verify. (It didn't pass under Democrats either, because the Hispanic caucus's message was: No amnesty, no E-Verify.)

Henry Olsen's piece on Jeb Bush's political prospects in the last issue of National Review notes that voters do not want "a business-oriented Republican who seems to value bosses over workers." They don't want a Congress that seems to value bosses over workers, either. One quick, easy, and effective way to send a pro-worker message would be to put the border stuff aside for now, dust off Lamar Smith's Legal Workforce Act, and pass it.