The Georgia and Alabama laws are a piecemeal approach to a broken immigration system. Perhaps it is time for their supporters to acknowledge that their “solution” is based on a ridiculously simplistic view of the economy.
By Erich Straub, attorney
“It’s the economy, stupid.” These words propelled Bill Clinton to an improbable victory over George H.W. Bush in 1992, and they have echoed in every presidential election since. It is not surprising that, in a sour economy and a little over a year before the 2012 election, the litany is being repeated over and over again: jobs, jobs, and more jobs.
But this time it has a slightly different twist. Some politicians are contending that the U.S. actually has enough jobs, but we need to take them away from undocumented immigrants and hand them over to law-abiding U.S. citizens.
This is the argument behind Congressman Lamar Smith’s recent Legal Workforce Act that would mandate E-Verify nationwide. E-Verify is the voluntary federal electronic system to verify employment authorization. Mr. Smith described his legislation as a “job creation bill.”
Many state legislators, most notably in Arizona, Georgia and Alabama, have made similar arguments. In those states, new laws have been passed that target undocumented workers and their employers. The Georgia and Alabama laws are particularly relevant to dairy producers because, unlike Arizona, agriculture is a very significant portion of the economy in those two states.
The Georgia law requires most businesses in the state to enroll in E-Verify. Despite Mr. Smith’s attempts to change it, E-Verify remains voluntary at the federal level. The Georgia immigration law mandates that businesses with 500 or more employees begin using the program by April 1, 2012. Businesses with at least 10 employees must begin using E-Verify by July 2013.
In addition, the law creates a new crime of “aggravated identity fraud” for individuals willfully and fraudulently using counterfeit or fictitious identifying information for the purpose of obtaining employment, which will be punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Similar to its Georgia counterpart, the Alabama immigration law requires businesses to participate in E-Verify. Additionally, the law prohibits state government entities from awarding contracts or providing grants or other incentives to employers that fail to enroll in E-Verify, effective January 1, 2012. The law also creates a state cause of action for U.S. citizens and legal immigrants against employers that refuse to hire or that discharge them while knowingly or negligently employing immigrants not authorized to work.
The Georgia and Alabama laws are a piecemeal approach to a broken immigration system that should be fixed at the federal level. While passage of these laws is unfortunate, their implementation may offer a real world test of the very principle that spurred their passage: Will unemployed U.S. citizens living in Georgia and Alabama now flock to the jobs being vacated by undocumented immigrants?
The early returns have been a rebuke to the supporters of the new laws. In both Georgia and Alabama, passage of the laws did have the expected effect of a mass exodus of immigrant workers from industries such as agriculture. But U.S. workers have not stepped in in significant numbers to take their places.
In Georgia, it has been widely reported that as many as 11, 000 jobs have gone unfilled this season in the agriculture industry. Many Georgia farmers were not amused by Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed solution of using 8,000 workers who were on probation with the State Department of Corrections. The Alabama law just went into effect last week, but similar worker shortages have already been well documented.
Perhaps it is time for Mr. Smith, Gov. Deal and other state legislators to acknowledge that their “solution” to the nation’s broken immigration system is based on a ridiculously simplistic view of the economy. It is doubtful that most in the agricultural sector view a modern version of chain gangs as a solution to the rural labor crisis.
Maybe the proponents of these new laws should remember the tried and true political strategy: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
I would make only a slight modification to the principle: Don’t be so stupid with the economy.
Erich C. Straub is an immigration lawyer who practices in Wisconsin and is listed in The Best Lawyers in America, SuperLawyers, and U.S. News and World Report’s Best Law Firms. Mr. Straub has spoken to audiences throughout the U.S. on immigration, and frequently advises Wisconsin Dairy Farmers on the topic. He has traveled Washington, D.C., to meet with elected officials regarding immigration reform. In 2008, the Milwaukee Business Journal described him as a “national leader on the federal immigration issue.” Contact him at (414) 224-8472 or firstname.lastname@example.org.