On Thursday, I had a polite conversation with a reader who had done some research after reading this August story about the potential impact of a proposed law that would force farmers to use the E-Verify system to check the immigration status of their workers.
In that story, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen said he would oppose the law unless it can be modified to include provisions that would enable farmers to get enough legal labor, which would likely mean new ways to channel legal immigrants into agricultural jobs.
The caller noted that farmers and other employers in Arizona have been subject to mandatory E-Verify provisions of state law for several years, and he could find no evidence that this triggered disastrous labor shortages.
That seemed to be a valid point. I contacted the Arizona Farm Bureau for more information, and got a lengthy reply from spokesman Joseph Sigg. It sounds as though the situation in Arizona is more complex than it sounds. (No surprise there.)
Here’s Sigg’s email:
E-Verify has not been measurably disruptive to the labor supply of Arizona agriculture, so far. I question though whether the Arizona experiment with E-Verify can be extrapolated. Understand E-Verify is mandatory under Arizona law, but there are no penalties for non-compliance. The last I checked only about 1/3 of Arizona employers were compliant with E-Verify – the federal approach will be mandatory and there will be significant penalties.
The federal law contemplates employers will use E-Verify on existing employees, when the employer has been apprised of some sort of mis-match in identifier numbers. At present E-Verify cannot be used in pre or post hire.
Our labor supply is less challenged by E-Verify than it is by a failure to overhaul our visas, our approach to border security with no reform, an aging workforce, the economy and new trends which show a tendency from our neighbors to the south to stay home – Arizona’s undocumented numbers have fallen by 20-25%. It is a labor supply problem that threatens Arizona and other areas of agriculture.
E-Verify can be legitimately attacked on other fronts – if the federal government mandates it there will be abuses of the system – we have seen it anecdotally in this state – its mandated use will “rain on many citizens’ parades” and we will see abuses of rights. We will see employers being attacked by the feds while simultaneously under suit by individuals or advocacy groups.
The federal government claims only a small error rate, but even the uncorrectable error rate can impact any number of citizens. Apart from the error rate, the E-Verify system does not detect fraud and mandated use across the country will contribute to a proliferation of fraudulent documents and identity theft – so hang on to your hats.
Conventional (rather than informed) wisdom says we can solve our immigration problems by securing the border and whacking employers…so that thought process has led us to contemplate mandatory E-Verify across the country. If we dial down the rhetoric and the emotion, we might be able to proceed in a rational way. We have considerable experience in this country for laying our ills at the feet of immigrants. Most of it is myth – just like the current debate. Since colonial times we have managed to malign virtually every ethnic, racial and religious group in their immigrant status. Our practice has developed into a finely honed art – we can do much better.
Churchill said he was supremely confident that Americans would do the right thing but only as a last resort – well I am still waiting.