Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Immigration reform won’t work unless we crack down on employers hiring illegal workers

What if there was a wealthy nation that had an enormous illegal immigration problem in which millions of illegal workers lived in the shadows and in constant fear of being deported?

And what if that country decided to solve the problem by proposing a law that had three main tenets: Beefing up border security to stem or stop the tide of illegal immigration; requiring employers to verify the legal status of every worker and impose heavy penalties and fines for employers who hired illegal workers; and providing through a system of background checks, fines and payment of back taxes a path to permanent residence to the illegal workers already here ?

Would the law pass?

If you think the above are rhetorical questions about America’s current immigration problem you’re wrong. It describes the situation in 1985.

And no, the law didn’t pass.

Lobbyists for the manufacturing, farming, food processing and hospitality industries, aided by labor lobbyists, killed it. Twice. They didn’t like being the immigration cops for the nation. They argued that it was the federal government’s job to enforce the immigration laws (sound familiar?).

So Kentucky Democratic Sen. Romano Mazzoli and Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson reintroduced the bill in 1986, but this time with watered down requirements for employers, who now only had to make a “good faith” effort to verify legal status.

Good faith turned the bill into a good farce as thousands of employers looked at raggedy, barely legible, clearly forged Social Security cards and shrugged and said, “Looks good to me, here’s your apron.”

And so here we are 30 years later attempting to solve an even worse illegal immigration problem with a bill that has nearly the same tenets of the 1986 amnesty law – a bill that, if passed, will likewise fail to solve the problem because it lets employers off the hook.

Illegal immigration is a two-sided coin: workers who come here illegally to find jobs and the Americans who hire them.

But there are no lobbyists to speak of for illegal immigrants.

So we focus our efforts at the border, trying to keep workers from jobs by running around in the desert in Humvees and helicopters rounding up thousands while letting thousands more get through. We’ve been trying and failing at border security for 50 years.

Perhaps it’s time to try something else?

Arizona in 2008 tried something else by holding employers responsible for whom they hire. The state’s employers went to court to kill it, claiming it unfairly burdened them with something that was the responsibility of the federal government (sound familiar?). They failed when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law but they won in other ways. They got the Legislature to weaken its requirements and the Legislature provided little funding to pay for enforcement.

Not too surprisingly, the law remains unenforced and an abysmal failure yet the very same verification system that isn’t working in Arizona is in the Senate bill proposed last week.

Is there any doubt that if the federal bill passes, its employment verification system will also go unfunded and therefore unenforced?

If we want to “solve” the illegal immigration problem we must crack down on employers just as hard as we crack down on people entering the country illegally to find work.

Whether we let those who have been living here illegally for years to stay is a separate issue.

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