By: Sarah J. Baker, Esq.
President Obama, the Republican Party, and various talking heads on both sides of the aisle claim to have the solutions to the crises facing the U.S. with unemployment standing at 9.1%, ongoing economic stagnation, and a flagging stock market. However, with fall upon us and daylight hours waning, it seems they are instead stumbling in the dark on the interrelated issues of job creation, the economy, and immigration policy.
The most recent solution proposed to lift the downtrodden U.S. economy and jobs market is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s (USCIS) “Entrepreneurs in Residence” initiative, a program that would “utilize industry expertise to strengthen USCIS policies and practices surrounding immigrant investors, entrepreneurs and workers with specialized skills, knowledge, or abilities” to generate jobs and spur on economic competitiveness. Additionally, House Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) recently held hearings touting immigration programs oriented toward job creation, while almost simultaneously advocating legislation that would impose the flawed electronic employment eligibility verification system, known as “E-Verify,” on employers nationwide. With reports consistently being issued on the dire economic consequences for American business if E-Verify becomes mandatory, the irony and hypocrisy of Representative Smith’s actions would be amusing if they weren’t such worrying indicators of the direction in which our country is headed.
In mid-September, Representative Smith held a hearing on the EB-5 investor visa program, which allows foreign nationals who “engage in a new commercial enterprise, invest between $500,000 and $1,000,000 in the business and see that it creates 10 full-time jobs for American workers” to pursue permanent residence. The hearing focused on the increasingly popular EB-5 regional center pilot project (where investments are made in designated economic entities known as a “Regional Centers”), which is set to expire in less than one year on September 30, 2012. In his opening remarks, Representative Smith stated that Congress must ensure its “policies help private enterprise strengthen our economy, create jobs for American workers and maintain our global competitiveness.” Further, he asserted, “the number one job of Congress is to create jobs.”
Juxtaposed against this hearing is the Legal Workforce Act, HR 2885, a bill Representative Smith introduced that would require employers nationwide to use E-Verify to confirm the employment eligibility of their workers. The House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary recently passed the proposed legislation on September 21, 2011 and, if ultimately signed into law, employers would have 2 years to come into compliance with its mandates. The Act would require employers to sign and attest that they have verified an employee’s employment authorization by: (1) obtaining the individual’s society security number (SSN), and (2) examining specified documents establishing his or her identity. The bill would limit the list of documents that could evidence an employee’s identity and employment authorization, and the individual employee would also have to make an attestation regarding his or her eligibility to work in the U.S.
While these mandates seem both reasonable and beneficial, the Legal Workforce Act has drawn heavy criticism from various camps including those opposing more government regulation and those who believe immigrants are the lifeblood of the nation as they perform jobs many Americans will not even consider taking. Leaders in several states have expressed concern over how the legislation would devastate the agricultural sector where the necessity of undocumented workers is incontrovertible. Critics further contend the Act would establish a de facto national ID system, violate civil liberties affecting the right to work and free speech, hinder small business, turn employers into immigration enforcement agents, and encourage more ID theft. Still more opponents argue the legislation must be accompanied by comprehensive immigration reform, would be extremely costly to implement, and would impose even more requirements in an area that is already riddled with regulatory mandates.
The Legal Workforce Act is the latest in a long line of glaring examples of the lack of direction and poor leadership on issues which fall at the intersection of the economy and immigration policy. This bill is particularly frustrating because it so clearly undermines Representative Smith’s mission for Congress as articulated at the EB-5 hearing. Furthermore, it is based on the flawed premise that one job not filled by an undocumented worker equals one job that would be filled by an American. Even if this premise were sound, any legislation that would impose significant financial costs and additional regulations on American businesses at a time when they can ill-afford such burdens will inevitably shrink the job market even further for Americans and undocumented immigrants alike. It is going to take more than just political posturing or piecemeal attempts at legislative reform to solve this nation’s economic and immigration problems.