Another View: E-Verify targets employees, not businesses

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The workplace raids undertaken by federal agents at seven meat-processing plants in Mississippi last month ensnared 680 illegal immigrants and exposed a truth well known to employers and their political patrons nationwide: The system is tougher on employees than on employers, by a lot.

Hundreds of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents carried out the coordinated raids on Aug. 7 — the largest workplace immigration enforcement action in more than a decade. Hundreds of workers were carted off to ICE detention centers, in many cases as a way station to deportation. Others, including parents of U.S. citizen children, were released pending hearings in federal immigration court; some will also be deported.

By contrast, not one of the Mississippi employers has been charged.

Court papers filed in support of the raids made clear that the companies that ran the plants, mainly chicken-processing facilities, knew that some or many of their workers were undocumented. They hired them anyway, even though Mississippi is one of eight states that require nearly all businesses to check the immigration status of new hires by using E-Verify, an electronic system that checks workers' documents against databases of the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

E-Verify is relatively useful at identifying fake documents but much less effective in spotting ones that are stolen, shared or belonging to someone recently deceased. Its real problem is that no one is much interested in lending muscle to its enforcement.

Not employers, who (in the Mississippi example) neglected to run the names of many of their undocumented workers through the system. Not states that have legislatively mandated the use of E-Verify but omitted tough penalties for politically influential businesses. And not the federal government, which has done little more than shrug at companies and individuals that hire unauthorized employees — including President Donald Trump's family business, which until recently had dozens on the payroll. Trump is one of a number of prominent Republicans who have paid lip service to expanding E-Verify, only to drop the matter once in office.

Federally, according to a database maintained by Syracuse University, just 11 individuals, and no companies, were prosecuted in the 12 months ending in March this year. At the same time, more than 85,000 undocumented immigrants were prosecuted for illegal entry, and some 34,000 for illegal reentry.

It's true that it can be difficult to gain convictions of businesses. It's equally true that the country faces labor shortages in an array of industries. A more rational immigration system would put the millions of unauthorized migrants already in the country on a path to legal status and expand legal immigration to meet the market's demands. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has been tacking in the opposite direction.

— The Washington Post



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