House Republicans are rallying around the Secure the Border Act of 2023, a sprawling immigration enforcement bill that will be brought up for a vote later this week. It would resume border wall construction and seek to codify the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy, which required migrants to await their U.S. immigration court dates in Mexico.
But the bill wouldn’t just target undocumented immigrants, as Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.) has pointed out. He tweeted that a section requiring employers to use E-Verify systems to verify workers’ citizenship status would be like giving the government “the ultimate on/off switch” for employment.
“I will NOT vote to require EVERY American to get [President Joe] Biden’s permission if they want to work,” Massie continued. “Giving the federal government more power over YOU is a mistake.”
Massie is right to point out the potential for government abuse. Mandatory national E-Verify would mean more government meddling in the affairs of private businesses—and more state control in general. Though it’s “being sold to you as a security measure,” former Rep. Justin Amash (L–Mich.) argued, “E-Verify is laying the foundation for national biometric databases, [central bank digital currencies], and a social credit system, giving the state almost absolute power over your life.”
It isn’t hard to imagine that a government empowered to punish workers and employers on the grounds of citizenship status could impose similar punishments on other grounds. Just look at the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which required workplaces with over 100 employees to make workers get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. Republicans rightly criticized this government overreach, but they largely fail to see how E-Verify measures could be weaponized against more than just undocumented immigrants.
National E-verify bill contains vague references to two pilot programs of non-photographic technology you must use to prove your identity to DHS in order to get a job.
What is it? Fingerprints? DNA? Retina? Why not just say it in the bill? Is E-Verify actually Patriot Act 2.0? pic.twitter.com/0vKxxkWiM3
— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) May 9, 2023
Imposing the system at the national level makes little practical sense since E-Verify doesn’t function nearly as effectively as its proponents claim. The Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh has noted that the system “is ineffective at detecting illegal immigrant workers.” What’s more, the government’s existing employment verification document, the I-9 form, already “costs employers an estimated 13.48 million man-hours each year.” Nor does E-Verify seem to lead to better outcomes for American workers. Citing Nowrasteh’s research, Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty wrote in 2020:
How often does E-Verify mistakenly mark people as legally unable to work when they should have been approved? About 0.15 percent of the time, which sounds impressive, but if it were applied to every American worker via federal mandate it would leave more than 187,000 people a year barred from work for no reason at all.
Supporters of national E-Verify argue that the system can be fixed. But making E-Verify work flawlessly and ensuring total compliance from employers would require far more government funding, far more punitive enforcement, and potentially invasive biometric proof of identity—all of which would come back to bite American citizens.
Still, the idea has sticking power on the right. Former United Nations ambassador and current GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley supports mandatory E-Verify. So do Florida Republicans, who last week passed a bill requiring private businesses with 25 or more employees to use E-Verify.
If passed by the House, the Secure the Border Act would likely die in the Democratic-held Senate (and Biden has said he would veto it anyway). But the fact remains that the E-Verify proposal would be problematic in ways similar to domestic surveillance measures and vaccine mandates, and it has broad GOP support regardless. Massie is right that Congress shouldn’t give the federal government yet another opportunity to constrain civil liberties and privacy rights.