May 27, 2009

Sean Hannity's been trying hard to come up with some fresh ideas that could help rejuvenate movement conservatism and the Republican Party. So the other night he ran a special "6 Ideas to Save America" that he thought would be a swell way to reclaim conservatism as the movement of ideas (which it never really was in the first place, but nevermind).

No. 6 was "Illegal immigration." This had to be interesting, since the Right's naked nativism in the 2008 campaign played a not-insignificant role in its outcome, and the GOP has been grappling with how to deal with the cold reality that their longtime immigrant-bashing ways have hurt their future electoral prospects considerably.

Hannity's idea: "E-verify," a system that would require employers to electronically verify the Social Security numbers of their employers, which would indeed reduce the ability of illegal immigrants to obtain jobs in the USA. He invited Alabama Sen. Jeff Sesssions, a Republican who's been pushing this plan, on to talk about it.

There's nothing wrong with E-verify, really, except:

A) It would only resolve a limited portion of the problem with our immigration system.

B) It would punch a big hole in our federal revenues, to the tune of about $17.3 billion.

C) It doesn't work, at least not yet.

Perhaps Hannity ought to read the Wall Street Journal, who called E-Verify "The Last Thing Employers Need":

Proponents tout E-Verify as a way to curb the hiring of illegal aliens. But the program is plagued by serious problems that include misidentifying U.S. citizens as not authorized for employment.

In 2007, DHS commissioned an independent study of E-Verify, which concluded that "the database used for verification is still not sufficiently up to date to meet the requirements for accurate verification." The error rate was almost 10% for foreign-born U.S. citizens. E-Verify's vulnerability to identity fraud is also problematic. A person using a valid Social Security card that doesn't belong to him would go undetected by the system. Mandating use of E-Verify could provide a nice boon to an already thriving document-fraud industry.

... The E-Verify mandate is already part of the House stimulus, and Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama is still hoping to add it to the Senate bill before final passage.

But simply cracking down on employers isn't the answer, especially when such efforts aren't coupled with expanding the authorized work force. The best way to reduce the hiring of illegals is to put in place a guest-worker program that gives U.S. employers better access to legal foreign workers. Most U.S. employers don't have a problem with being held accountable for the workers they hire, so long as the government is providing them with the proper tools to abide by the law. E-Verify clearly doesn't meet that standard, and until it does the program ought to remain voluntary.

Illegal immigration tends to flow and ebb based on the strength of the U.S. economy. Given the recession, it's likely to decline in the short-run, and Congress might use the lull to enact some substantive policy reforms. Work-site enforcement should be part of a broader immigration debate, not something slipped into a stimulus bill to placate protectionists.

Moreover, the Congressional Budget Office estimates it will take a chunk out of federal tax revenues, because employers will simply turn to paying people under the table:

Decrease federal revenues by $17.3 billion over the 2009-2018 period. The decrease largely reflects the judgment that mandatory verification of employment eligibility through the E-Verify system would result in an increase in the number of undocumented workers being paid outside the tax system. In particular, JCT anticipates that some employers currently withholding income and employment taxes from the wages of undocumented workers and reporting these amounts to the Internal Revenue Service through the use of an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) or other employee identification number would no longer withhold or report such taxes.

We might also want to think twice before proceeding with a plan proposed by Sessions, who has a history of dalliances with white nationalists and their nativist organizations. One of them, the Center for Immigration Studies, Sessions cites in the above clip (using a study that's been demonstrated to be dubious in the first place).

Back to the drawing board, fellas.

Can you help us out?

For 18 years we have been exposing Washington lies and untangling media deceit, but now Facebook is drowning us in an ocean of right wing lies. Please give a one-time or recurring donation, or buy a year's subscription for an ad-free experience. Thank you.


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.