Anti-immigration advocates believe that harsh new laws will drive illegal immigrants out of the United States. They ignore the fact that the primary victim of these laws aren’t undocumented foreign workers, but business owners who are expected to verify the immigration status of each new employee. This informal deputizing of businessmen is exactly the sort of burdensome regulation and heavy–handed government intervention that conservatives rail against in every other area.
Last Thursday, a popular San Diego restaurant owner—Michel Malecot—was fined $396,575 and given five years probation by the federal government for hiring undocumented workers. These penalties are actually lower than the $650,000 and prison time that President Obama’s Justice Department sought. U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California Laura Duffy said, "When employers do not comply, we will take vigorous enforcement action to ensure they do not profit from this illegal tactic.”
Malecot's case is already typical of the Obama administration’s treatment of illegal immigration: Go after employers because they are easier, more politically-palatable targets. The number of employer immigration audits has quadrupled since 2009, and companies have been fined $6.9 million last year, nearly ten times as much as the Bush administration’s $675,000 in 2008.
States have followed the federal government’s lead with new laws that place draconian penalties on businesses for noncompliance. As CEI’s Alex Nowrasteh has written, “Alabama's new immigration law HB 56 clearly hurts employers…. A first offense results in the firing of all undocumented workers, business licenses suspension for 10 working days, and administrative penalties. For a second offense, the Alabama state government will revoke all of the business' licenses and permits for the location where the offense took place. For a third offense, the government permanently revokes all of the business' licenses from all of its locations in the entire state—destroying the business. This ‘business death penalty’ is based on a similar section of Arizona's anti-immigration law SB 1070 and Legal Arizona Workers Act.”
As I wrote earlier this month,
“Anti-immigration laws in Arizona, Georgia, and Alabama are wreaking havoc on those states’ economies. All three of those states have seen crops rot as labor shortages created by the new laws have taken effect. The Guardian reports the case of one Alabama farmer who has lost $100,000 worth of tomatoes after the new law passed. As workers fled Georgia, Governor Nathan Deal turned to using ex-convicts on probation to pick crops. But slave labor won’t cut it. The AP found that the Latino workers were nearly six times as productive as the probationers.”
Free movement of people helps businesses hire the workers they need, avoid more bureaucratic regulations, and also provides new customers. A recent Associated Press report detailed how the tourism industry—U.S. Travel Association, Four Seasons Hotels, Walt Disney Parks, and others—is now one of the strongest lobbies in favor of increasing nonimmigrant visas. The report has shown that since 2001, the number of nonimmigrant visas dropped by 1.1 million from 7.6 million to 6.5 million in 2010 under Obama.
Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest business lobby in the United States has released a report that debunks myths about immigration. Their report shows that worries like immigrants don’t pay taxes, will overpopulate America, drive down worker wages, and take jobs from Americans are false. America’s businesses understand that freedom of movement is good for the economy. When will America’s politicians learn?