LatinaLista — If there is a thin, very thin, silver lining to states and local communities taking it upon themselves to enforce immigration law, it is the fact that the legal/economic/humanitarian impact of the passage of such enforcement measures can be seen in a controlled setting.
From that is a pretty good idea as to how it will fly if it were implemented nationally.
One of these measures is the electronic verification system known as E-Verify.
Right now, there is debate as to if this system of electronically verifying an employee’s eligibility to work, a.k.a. determining if he/she is a citizen, is something good for the country.
In Arizona, where the E-Verify system went into effect on January 1, 2008, initial observations are surfacing that say Congress may want to rethink this program.
As it stands now, a national mandatory E-Verify system would cost $765 million to implement from 2009-2012 but only if it were used to check newly hired employees. If both newly hired employees and current employees’ names were processed in the system then it would cost $838 million over the same period.
Right now, 61,000 employers have registered for E-Verify, yet only half are actively using it. If the program was made mandatory then it would have to service about 7.4 million employers.
So far, only 20,000 of Arizona’s 150,000 employers are enrolled in the E-Verify program. The number, critics contend, is still too small to see the extent of the program’s impact but already employers are finding the program to be an obstacle in hiring much needed employees.
The Immigration Policy Center has documented the problems that have arisen so far in Arizona with the E-Verify system. The following are some of the highlights of the report:
The Social Security Administration (SSA) database that E-Verify taps into has a 4.1 percent error rate, and approximately 10 percent of naturalized U.S. citizens are initially told they are not authorized to work.1 Between October 2006 and March 2007, roughly 3,200 foreign-born U.S. citizens were initially flagged as not-work-authorized.2 As a result of these problems with E-Verify, Arizona workersâ€”including U.S. citizensâ€”have been erroneously flagged as non-work-authorized.
Small businesses have reported that using E-Verify is difficult, particularly businesses that do not have dedicated Human Resources staff or internet access. Enrolling in the system, taking the tutorial, and passing the necessary test takes precious time and may require costly computer upgrades.
Out-of-state businesses are concerned about how the new state law will interact with federal laws that regulate commerce. Out-of-state employers who may have branches or even a single employee in Arizona are subject to competing laws, and a single mistake could lead to tough penalties.
An Arizona Chamber of Commerce spokesperson believes the new law has had a â€œsignificant impactâ€ and that workers are leaving the state: â€œI canâ€™t emphasize enough that the labor shortage has been severe and continues to be severe.â€
According to an Arizona Farm Bureau spokesperson, growers cannot find enough workers. In Yuma, where agricultural workers earn up to $19 an hour, growers canâ€™t find enough workers to harvest the lettuce crop, some farmers have stopped planting labor- intensive vegetables, and other farmers are considering getting out of the agriculture business. â€œIf the agricultural industry canâ€™t get laborers, the land will be converted to other uses and weâ€™ll put our food production at the mercy of other countries.â€
Some have begun to see how the new E-Verify law has been harmful to the state’s economy, which may lose as much as $10 billion. With its low unemployment rate, there are not enough workers in Arizona to take the jobs abandoned by immigrant workers.
The agricultural, tourism, and construction industries have been particularly hard hit. In an astounding turnaround, some Arizona policymakers — including the leading proponent of the E-Verify law — want the immigrant workers back, and have now proposed a new guestworker program.
In reviewing the highlights, it is easy to see that such a program works â€” but too well. It red-flags both legal and undocumented residents and puts the burden of clearing up the federal mistake on the worker who isn’t compensated for their time.
However, that’s not what is wrong with the program. What’s wrong, and what Arizona’s implementation uncovered, was just how badly the state and its businesses need immigrant labor.
For some reason, there is a national attitude that businesses deserve all this bureaucratic red tape because they are trying to break the law by hiring people they don’t have to pay minimum wage to or supply health benefits or are abusing these people.
In some cases, there are reports that this is true but of all the thousands of businesses that exist employing undocumented immigrants it stands to reason that not all are abused or are being paid below minimum wage.
The use of immigrant labor in this country satisfies a cycle that the average American doesn’t even realize by how much he/she benefits from. For example:
1. Businesses need to keep costs low to make a profit and at the same time make their customers feel they’re receiving a bargain.
2. Businesses hire undocumented labor because they are willing to work long hours at minimum wage.
3. In turn, businesses pass some of those savings, in the form of low prices, on to their customers.
4. Customers happily consume services and goods when they feel good about the price they are paying for it.
5. Minimum wage employees ensure that prices will be kept what is deemed “affordable” by the average American consumer.
The outline is definitely simplistic but it illustrates what is happening in Arizona and in other places when there are not enough minimum wage employees, or employees who are willing to stay in the hot sun all day, or work in stinky poultry and meat plants, or put up with cleaning after people or taking care of their kids â€” to fill all these jobs.
By their own admission, state legislators admit they made a mistake and are trying to create their own version of a guest worker program.
If there is a program to consider replicating in the country, it could be the guest worker program.
We won’t know until Arizona does it because Congress, instead of providing the lead on immigration reform, seems to be taking its cue from the states.