Our first order of business on immigration policy must be to make sure that our immigration laws can be enforced so we can have an immigration policy worthy of the name. A significant number of illegal immigrants, and a tacit official tolerance for it, is incompatible with that goal.
If we want to make sure that illegal immigration is brought down and kept down — even as the American economy grows stronger — then the most important step we can take is not building a border wall or arresting illegal border crossers, with or without families. Roughly two-fifths of illegal immigrants did not cross the border illegally in the first place. They came here legally and then overstayed their visas.
The most important step is to keep illegal immigrants from having gainful employment, whichever route they took to be here illegally. We must make it possible and mandatory for employers to verify that their new hires are present in the United States legally. After all, it’s the prospect of economic advance, rather than crime or political chaos, that drives almost all illegal immigration. To get control of it — and not just at the border — we have to take away the economic incentive. The knowledge that it will be much more difficult to make money in the U.S. will serve as a humane deterrent against future illegal immigration. Moreover, mandatory verification for new hires will make it harder for existing illegal immigrants to switch jobs, so some of them will leave. In addition, the mandatory implementation of E-Verify would make it easier to prosecute employers who exploit illegal workers and depress wages for lower-income Americans.
The Trump administration has been hesitant to put E-Verify front and center — it’s not as emotive as the president’s signature lines about immigration, and the business wing of the party is opposed. But, as we’ve seen over the last few weeks at the border, once illegal immigrants are in the country, even if they have just arrived, it’s a significant challenge to remove them. E-Verify would serve as a deterrent and diminish the illegal population without the government having to directly remove anyone (although, obviously, deportation is a completely legitimate tool of enforcement).
Once we have stanched the flow of illegal immigration in a durable way, we can consider granting amnesty to those illegal immigrants who have put down roots and avoided trouble. At that point, we will have greater confidence that we have ended the familiar cycle in which one amnesty, by inviting more illegal immigration, begets another.
The House is scheduled to vote on immigration this week. A bill sponsored by the House leadership attempts to split the difference between immigration hawks and moderate Republicans. Even if it passes the House, is not likely to survive a filibuster in the Senate, so the main purpose of the vote is to put legislators on record about what they want in immigration policy, and to exert an influence on the ultimate political settlement of this issue.
The current version of the bill contains several laudable provisions. Granting amnesty for people who came here illegally as minors and who have been law-abiding otherwise; re-orienting legal immigration from the reunification of extended families to the recruitment of skilled workers; reductions in legal immigration; allowing children to be held with their parents while their asylum claims are processed: We have endorsed all of these ideas and favor them still (provided, of course, that the amnesty is coupled with serious enforcement measures).
But the bill does not mandate the use of E-Verify for new hires. Conservatives should insist that it does.