Georgia’s Anti-Capitalist Immigration Law

Portions of Georgia’s new anti-immigration law will go into effect on January 1. The law is part of a recent state-level campaign to create restrictive immigration enforcement laws that go beyond federal law. Starting in Arizona in 2007, numerous states have passed anti-immigration laws that have proven highly popular, but Arizona’s experience should be a warning to Georgia.

Section 12 of the law requires employers with 10 or more employees to sign up with the E-Verify program, with phased implementation for all employers through mid-2013. E-Verify is a federally run electronic employment verification system designed to weed out undocumented workers by verifying the identity information of prospective employees against a federal database.

E-Verify has not worked as intended. According to a December 2010 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, of the 2.6 percent of workers who are denied by E-Verify, many are citizens or legal immigrants caught in the regulatory net. According to a 2009 audit of E-Verify conducted by Westat, about 1 percent of legal American workers – both immigrants and citizens – will be denied employment by E-Verify.

Meanwhile, 4.1 percent of initial E-Verify results are simply wrong. If E-Verify applied to the entire employed civilian workforce in Georgia, more than 45,000 citizens and legal immigrants to Georgia could be denied employment by E-Verify.

Many of these mistakes are due to incorrect information in government databases. Workers have a maximum of 120 days to sort out errors with the government. But the government has a lot of information on us. Thus, a denied worker must file a Privacy Act request to discover which bit of information is incorrect. In 2009, a Privacy Act request took an average 104 days. Those delays will increase as more employers sign up for E-Verify.

Other E-Verify mistakes are caused by user error and identity fraud. Employers are busy running their businesses; they are not experts at navigating government websites. Often times the inclusion of another space at the end of an employee’s name or a hyphen confounds the system and rejects the worker. Instead of expanding their businesses, employers will have to comply with complex regulations–hardly an economic growth strategy.

E-Verify is also ineffective. Employers depend on identity information given by the employee themselves, so the system fails to catch 54 percent of undocumented workers. You read that right–E-Verify misses more than half of all undocumented workers and that percentage will increase as E-Verify creates more of an incentive for undocumented workers to buy forged identity documents on the black market.

Those errors and problems with E-Verify are one reason why Dan Stein of the Federation for American Immigration Reform argues that every American should be issued a national biometric identity card. For anyone who cares about individual privacy and freedom, that’s enough reason to abandon any and every government regulation that could lead to a national identity card.

Another unintended consequence of E-Verify is that it shifts “unauthorized workers into less formal work arrangements,” according to the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California. Mandating E-Verify in Arizona did not remove many undocumented immigrants from the labor market, but instead pushed them deeper into the black market.

Since E-Verify was mandated in Arizona in 2008 (the law was passed in 2007), businesses in the state have suffered. Indications are that the GAO and Westat studies under count E-Verify’s failures. MCL Enterprises, which owns 24 Burger King restaurants in Arizona, reported that over 14 percent of its employees were initially deemed unauthorized by E-Verify. They were later cleared for legal employment.

Ken Nagel, co-owner of two popular (and delicious) restaurants in Phoenix tried to hire his American-born daughter, but she flunked E-Verify. In mid-2010, Mike Castillo, owner of PostalMax in Scottsdale, wanted to hire a part-time worker but a technical glitch in E-Verify made the filing difficult. It took a few days for Castillo to figure out how to open the government’s computer file and then solve the problem. After that, Castillo said, “I don’t think people are going to really embrace E-Verify.”

Moreover, most Arizona employers are ignoring E-Verify. From late 2008 to late 2009, 1.3 million people were hired in Arizona but only 732,455 E-Verify checks were made. Good laws shouldn’t make the black market more attractive, which E-Verify certainly does.

Georgia is wise in not applying E-Verify to businesses with fewer than 10 employees, but the smartest policy is avoiding invasive workplace regulations like E-Verify altogether. A flood of new regulations from Washington is a major reason why the economy is so rotten. Adding E-Verify on top of that will only hurt Georgia’s recovery.