New Flophouse Address:

You will find all the posts, comments, and reading lists (old and some new ones I just published) here:

Monday, September 25, 2017

Immigration and Worksite Enforcement in the US: Verification Hell

We hear a lot these days about a big beautiful Wall that is going to be built on the US southern border.
I'll believe that when I see it.  And so far I'm seeing nothing which means that sometimes a government's inability to get things done is a very good thing.  As you can tell I am not a fan of the idea.  I think it's useless and expensive and as a US taxpayer I'm not willing to shell out money just to make homeland Americans feel like they have their very own brick and mortar doudou to help them sleep better at night.

The other day it occurred to me that there is a very good reason that stricter border enforcement is all the rage (and not just in the US): it requires very little inconvenience, effort or sacrifice on the part of resident citizens (also known as "voters").  Their lives need not be disturbed in any way, and it might even generate a few jobs. What's not to like about that?

Contrast enhanced border security with other forms of immigration enforcement that might be a better bet like worksite enforcement, so unloved and regularly ignored by millions of Americans. Because, you see, worksite enforcement applies to them as well as the undocumented workers.

Yes ma'am/sir, It is illegal in the US to hire an undocumented worker.  That means that a citizen who hires someone who does not have the right to work in the US is breaking the law.  Funny how so much of the focus is on illegal entry by migrants  ("They broke the law!") while Americans seem to be rather sanguine about the lawbreaking by their fellow citizens.  Silly me, I didn't realize citizenship meant getting away with only obeying the laws you take seriously.

On the other hand they have reason to be only moderately concerned.  The penalties for breaking hiring an undocumented worker are relatively modest.  According to this site, it's about 250 USD for a first offense which goes up to 2000 USD for the second offense. (To give you a basis for comparison, in France the fine is 15,000 Euros and 5 years in prison.)  Sometimes employers get caught (IFCO) but more often they don't. Some of that has to do with the fact that ICE just doesn't have the staff .According to Jerry Kammer (What Happened to Workplace Enforcement?) ICE conducted 2,196 workplace audits in 2010 and 3,127 in 2013.  This, say Kammer, "represent a tiny fraction of 1% of the nation's employers" (loc 1510).

But one could argue that it's the employee verification process that is fatally flawed. (E-Verify is supposed to be better but it's not implemented in all states.) How can a US employer tell an undocumented worker from someone who is authorized to work?  That's a conundrum; it's not as if you can look into someone's eyes and ascertain their citizenship or immigration status.  So US employers are not supposed to guess or assume anything (though clearly there is discrimination based on things like accent or skin color.).

So, with very few exceptions, all employees in the US are required to fill out section one of the I-9 form (employers fill out section two) and provide proof of identity and authorization to work.
"While citizens and noncitizen nationals of the United States are automatically eligible for employment, they too must present the required documents and complete a Form I-9. U.S. citizens include persons born in the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. U.S. noncitizen nationals are persons who owe permanent allegiance to the United States, which include those born in American Samoa, including Swains Island."
Have a look at the list of acceptable documents here.   Quite the list, isn't it?  I certainly didn't know that  a "Passport from the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) or the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) with Form I-94 or Form I-94A indicating nonimmigrant admission under the Compact of Free Association Between the United States and the FSM or RMI" is an authorization to work in the US.  And for the life of me I couldn't tell the difference between a Green Card and a well done fake one. And that's OK because  it appears that the system works on a "best effort" basis.
"You must physically examine the document(s), and if they reasonably appear on their face to be genuine and to relate to the person presenting them, you must accept them. To do otherwise could be an unfair immigration-related employment practice. If the document(s) do not reasonably appear on their face to be genuine or to relate to the person presenting them, you must not accept them."
Americans are not fond of this system.  Business owners hate it (and try to get around it.)  US citizen employees submit to it because they must, and grumble about the "damn government" and its prying ways.  Attempts to make it more efficient and effective are, as Kammer notes, resisted by Left and Right alike.  Yes, my fellow Americans, here is something some of the Left and Right actually seem to agree on. A proposal in 1994 for pilot employee verification programs designed to be more efficient than the I-9 process was seen by the ACLU as "'merely a launching pad for a national computer registry and a de facto ID card that will make human guinea pigs of...millions of people.'"  The National Rifle Association (NRA) agreed as did the Cato Institute, the National Council of La Raza, and Grover Norquist (loc 542).

A new system that is in place but is not mandatory for all US states, is called E-Verify.  This MPI report says that in 2011 only 1 business out of 25 in the US was registered in the system.  Breitbart thinks it's a fine idea but the Cato Institute is still publishing articles like this one against it.  As for the ACLU it made this video and clearly they still think it's a bad idea.

So how exactly is immigration enforcement supposed to work inside the United States?  It's not if it means that Americans have to personally sacrifice something to make it effective.  Everyone agrees that "something must be done" about immigration, and that laws in principle should be enforced but they want solutions that don't affect them - solutions that conform to their desire to keep the government out of their lives as much as possible.  They seem to expect that somehow the US government is supposed to be able to just tell who is a citizen and who isn't, who has papers and who doesn't.  The fact that they can't is apparently a sign of incompetence: they don't have superpowers and can't read minds.

So it is, I contend, a hell of a lot easier to sell better border security (that darn wall) than it is to suggest that if the goal is to identify citizens, legal residents and undocumented residents, this would be a lot simpler if, say, the US had national ID cards.  If as Americans we don't care for that idea (and we are unwilling to obey our own laws) then perhaps we might want to rethink the need to make such distinctions in the first place and extend the right to be left alone to all residents.