President Obama and the Gang of Eight senators want E-Verify -- the electronic employment verification system -- included in any comprehensive immigration reform proposal this spring. Yesterday, the Competitive Enterprise Institute joined the Cato Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union at a Capitol Hill briefing on "E-Verify's many perils" (available online here). I spoke on the effect E-Verify will have on employers. This is how my statement concluded.
First, businesses should not want to go down this road to electronic regulation, where the government is monitoring employer compliance remotely through computer checks. This road does not end well for businesses. Immigration law is just the beginning -- as technology advances and government databases become more complete, all manner of labor law compliance and future regulatory controls could be monitored electronically. Remote control regulation is a dangerous precedent for businesses interested in reducing, not increasing their regulatory burden.
Second, universal regulations inevitably result in selective enforcement, which undermines the rule of law. In Arizona, for example, so many businesses failed to comply that the state had pick and choose businesses to make examples out of. But it’s not just violators who will be singled out. E-Verify will also result in selective audits against businesses, like Chipotle, that the federal government wants to make an example out of. This unfair or random enforcement will undermine the rule of law and create regulatory uncertainty that I think all businesses should oppose.
Finally, businesses should resist being treated as a fourth branch of government whenever they can. Immigration enforcement is the responsibility of the federal government, not private industry. Being forced to police your workforce or your customers for “unauthorized” individuals is simply authoritarian. If the government wants to enact a particular social scheme, whether immigration restrictions or providing birth control, it should do it, not conscript businessmen to do it for them.
The imposition of remote control regulation, selective enforcement, and employer conscription radically increase the powers of the government over the private sector. If it can control remotely the activities of employers, if it can conscript them to enforce its social policies, if it can selectively enforce the law against those it wishes, limited government becomes little more than illusion -- something that exists on paper, but which in reality is constrained only by the political whims of bureaucrats and the majority in Congress.
If the government wants to truly eliminate unauthorized employment or illegal immigration, it already knows how -- simply permit legal access to foreign workers. In the 1960s, when Mexican work visas were uncapped, illegal immigration was almost eliminated -- it is time for a return to a sensible immigration policy that discourages illegal immigration by allowing legal entry. It is time that the government ceases imposing the costs of immigration enforcement on legal workers and American businesses -- it is time for a better way.