Today at the House Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee hearing on “E-Verify—Preserving Jobs for American Workers,” Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) argued that making E-Verify mandatory and continuing to pursue an enforcement-only approach would not fix the country’s broken immigration system and do nothing to solve the country’s problems.
E-Verify, an electronic employment eligibility verification system that was first initiated as a pilot program in 1997, is currently used by a small percentage of the nation’s employers to verify the employment eligibility of all workers, U.S. citizen and noncitizen alike. Proposals to improve and expand E-Verify have been included in comprehensive bills to reform our broken immigration laws since 2005.
Below is an excerpt of Mr. Conyers’ opening remarks:
First, no one argues that we should stop enforcing our immigration laws. But enforcement without reform will promote a race to the bottom that only hurts the American worker. That is why AFL-CIO and Change to Win, representing over 16 million workers and more than 60 unions, have opposed an enforcement-only approach and have called for real solutions that fix our broken immigration system. These organizations recognize that an enforcement-only approach does not diminish the demand for willing workers. Rather, it simply pushes undocumented workers further into the shadows. This makes them more susceptible to abuse and exploitation, which drives down wages and working conditions for all workers — citizen and non-citizen alike.
That is one of the many dangers for American workers if we rush to make E-Verify mandatory for all employers, without also fixing our immigration system. We know that the Congressional Budget Office estimates that doing E-Verify without broader immigration reform will suck $17.3 billion out of our federal tax revenues. That is because millions of workers who are currently on-the-books and paying payroll taxes will simply go off-the-books into the underground economy, which empowers bad employers and endangers everyone.
Second, I would note that immigrants often fill critical gaps in our own workforce. Even in this difficult economy, there are some instances in which there are simply no Americans willing to take some of these jobs. Last Congress, we learned at a hearing on agricultural workers that experts on all sides of the debate agree that Americans are not returning to the fields to work. We learned that the increase in wages needed to get American workers to perform seasonal agricultural work would put American farmers out of business—a story told by the Republicans’ own witness demonstrated the economic harm that would be done if we followed their enforcement-only approach.
A grower who established a program to attract American workers to plant and harvest sweet potatoes had to close down the program because it just could not be profitable. Imagine the damage we would cause if our entire agricultural industry — and the millions of jobs held by American workers that are sustained by that industry — was off-shored because it could no longer compete with international growers. That is the reality if we make E-Verify mandatory for all employers, including those in the agriculture industry. If our goal is to preserve jobs for American workers, rather than shutting down industries and shipping jobs overseas, doing E-Verify alone is not the answer.
As we confront the complex issues facing our broken immigration system, we need to look at the issues facing all workers in the United States and to consider how ignoring the systemic problems will affect our economy and our communities.