Trump has put a conservative on the Supreme Court and has started to roll back excessive regulations, but he has not yet been able to keep some promises – like immediately dumping Obamacare, for instance. Nonetheless, polls show that “the 45th president’s electoral coalition remains intact,” as The Washington Post reported recently.
Will that still be true if he abandons the granddaddy of all promises -- his repeated and oft-echoed pledge to “Build the Wall”?
During the campaign, Trump promised to erect a permanent barrier between the U.S. and Mexico and claimed that our southern neighbor would pay for it. Achieving either of those ambitions appears in doubt. Cato scholar David Bier writes in the libertarian magazine Reason about the numerous legal obstacles complicating the construction of a wall: private property issues, Native American opposition, water rights and even bureaucracy which muddles accessing federal lands.
Practical hurdles to a wall’s effectiveness loom as well: weather-related vulnerabilities, tunneling, and opacity, for example. It turns out it’s harder to prevent the bad guys coming in if you can’t see them. Meanwhile, not surprisingly, Mexican authorities have rebuffed any notion that they will pick up the tab for the wall.
The question is: did voters truly expect that we would build a 1,000-mile concrete barrier along the Rio Grande? Or was it a token, a symbol of a more muscular approach to controlling illegal immigration?
If it was the latter, Trump’s efforts so far to cut back the inflow of undocumented persons would probably win over those disappointed that the wall is a non-starter. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is beefing up border control and threatening to withhold federal monies from sanctuary cities. Significantly, the number of people crossing the border illegally in recent months has plummeted. Still, voters may demand more.
Here’s how Trump can satisfy his base: make E-Verify mandatory for all employers. This approach, which Trump did champion during his campaign, would permanently reduce the flow of undocumented people into our country. The now-voluntary program is free, reliable and would change the calculus for those prepared to enter the country illegally; they could no longer count on making a living.
This is the central issue. A story in The Atlantic last year concluded that “these overstays make up a third to more than half of the 10 to 20 million illegal aliens in the country.” Those folks would not have been deterred by a wall, but they would have been put off by knowing they might not get a job.
E-verify is an electronic program created by the United States Customs and Immigration Service that allows employers to check whether a job candidate is legally allowed to work. Set up by the Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, employee information is sent to the Social Security Administration and the Customs and Immigration Service. The data is checked against government records to determine whether the person is authorized to work in the U.S.
Though many states are moving towards mandating E-Verify for businesses employing a minimum number of workers, and especially for those receiving government contracts, it is not required across the nation. Demonstrating the wide range of approaches, Arizona has, since 2008, required all employers to use E-Verify while in 2011 Governor Jerry Brown made it illegal to use the program in California.
Though any serious conversation about clamping down on illegal immigration brings charges of bigotry or xenophobia from the liberal establishment, most Americans recognize that unrestricted entry into the U.S. is not in the best interests of working people. A Gallup poll from last month showed that 59 percent of the country worries “a great deal “or a “fair amount” of people in the country illegally: Almost half of those self-identify as Democrats while 79 percent of Republicans expressed concern.
In response to those concerns, there has been bipartisan support for E-Verify in the past. In 2014, Obama’s Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services touted the program’s success, saying, “Since it was established, E-Verify has experienced exponential growth, increased accuracy, and high customer-satisfaction ratings." The program at the time had attracted half a million users. That figure has grown to 700,000
Based on the program’s popularity, and because the government has increasingly leaned on employers to rein in illegal immigration, Congress has more than once considered making it mandatory across the country. In January, Iowa’s Sen. Chuck Grassley with several GOP co-sponsors again introduced a bill known as the Accountability Through Electronic Verification Act. The legislation would make the system permanent -- as it stands, E-verify needs to be re-authorized by Congress every few years.
Opposition to the use of E-Verify, and indeed to any crackdown on illegal immigration, comes partly from those concerned that there won’t be enough workers for U.S. agriculture or other seasonal industries like ski resorts. Tom Tancredo, the former representative from Colorado, argues in a recent op-ed that enforcing the use of E-Verify should be coupled with expanded guest worker programs, to meet those issues head on. He notes that such programs should be tailored to industries that demonstrate a shortage of workers. In other words, “foreign workers should be supplementing American workers, not replacing them.”
Numerous studies have demonstrated that a large undocumented population has been among the factors depressing wages, especially for low-income Americans. In our post-9/11 world, it also poses security risks. What we know is that many people seek to come to the U.S. for a better life – to work and earn money for their families. The best practical way to deter people from entering the country illegally is to make it harder to get a job. The best way to accomplish that is to demand that all employers use E-verify.
Then, we won’t need a wall.