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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Telling Lag in E-Verify Law Enforcement in Southern Red States

At Bloomberg, Margaret Newkirk has a post that outs the GOP’s phony “get tough” on undocumented workers policy. As Newkirk writes in “E-Verify Laws Across Southern Red States Are Barely Enforced“:

In 2011 states across the Southeast passed laws that threatened private employers with dire consequences—including losing their license to do business—if they didn’t enroll with a federal data service called E-Verify to check the legal status of new hires. Modeled after 2008 measures in Arizona and Mississippi and billed as a rebuke to a do-nothing Obama administration, the laws went further than those in the 13 states that required checks for new hires only by state agencies or their contractors.

Seven years later, those laws appear to have been more political bark than bite. None of the Southern states that extended E-Verify to the private sector have canceled a single business license, and only one, Tennessee, has assessed any fines. Most businesses caught violating the laws have gotten a pass.

In Georgia the department charged with auditing compliance with the E-Verify law has never been given money to do so. In Louisiana, where the law against hiring unverified employees can lead to cancellation of public contracts or loss of business licenses, no contract has been canceled, no licenses have been suspended, and the state reports zero “actionable” complaints since the mandate went into effect in 2012. In Mississippi no one seems to know who enforces the E-Verify law. The mandate appears to give that job to its Department of Employment Security, which knows nothing about it and referred questions to the attorney general’s office, which says it doesn’t know who’s responsible.

The same is true in Alabama, where the state labor department points to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, which neither enforces the law nor knows who does. District attorneys, who field complaints under the mandate, say enforcement falls to the state attorney general’s office, which hadn’t heard that. “What is it we’re supposed to be doing?” spokeswoman Joy Patterson asks. “I’m not aware of anything like that.”

No doubt many Republican voters in these states are unaware that they have been hustled by their state legislators and governors, especially from those who bellow the loudest about “getting tough” on undocumented workers. As the conservative Cato Institute’s analyst, Alex Nowrasteh puts it “These are states that very much want to enforce immigration laws, where the electorate is solidly behind it and the politics is behind it, and even there they don’t want to enforce it.”

Advocates of The Legal Workforce Act, a bill that would institute a national E-Verify system know this to be the case. Still, they hope to put on a big show about it, when the bill comes up for debate in September, and reap support from voters who have been deluded that undocumented workers are a threat to their jobs.

Federal contractors have been required to E-Verify since 2009. Newkirk points out that, while “knowingly” hiring undocumented workers has been against the law since 1986, employers have finagled their way around the law in various ways:

The “knowingly” language spawned a cottage industry of fake documents, layered hiring—subcontractors who hire subcontractors who hire subcontractors—and the use of temp agencies and independent contractors, all shielding employers from knowledge of a worker’s status. Critics say E-Verify encourages discrimination and is filled with loopholes. It failed to flag the illegal status of Cristhian Rivera, who was accused in the recent death of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts.

E-Verify enforcement is largely a missing issue in the midterm campaigns. Newkirk notes that:

…the E-Verify laws were absent from Georgia’s recent GOP gubernatorial primary. Despite campaigning on how tough they would be on immigrants, neither candidate referred to the laws. The winner, Brian Kemp, ran ads saying he’d haul illegals away in his pickup. “They talked about sanctuary cities and rounding up criminal aliens in a truck, all these distractions,” [president of the Dustin Inman Society D. A. ] King says. “The root cause of illegal immigration is illegal employment. And none of our candidates made a peep about that.”

Obviously, the Republicans want to have it both ways — strut around as tough on undocumented workers, while giving employers, who are the key to E-Verify, the old wink-wink free pass. Kemp is probably the poster-boy for the two-faced scam. His bet is that the media will let him get away with it. We’ll know if that has been the case on November 6th.

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