Employers must be prosecuted to end the flow of illegal immigrants

Saturday, June 8, 2019
By Paul Martin


President Trump has long defined his immigration policies as simply a matter of toughness. Indeed, making the border crossing tougher has been the overriding thrust of his deterrence effort. He has complained to border agents that he would love to see them get “a little rough” but that “when you do all of these things that we have to do, they end up arresting border patrol people.” He even threatened a 25 percent tariff on all goods from Mexico for its failure to prevent people from crossing the border.

Yet, no hardship has deterred millions on this dangerous journey because jobs waits on the other side of the border. To remove that attraction, the government would have to get tough not on migrants but on those who hire them. But that is a tad too tough, it seems, for most immigration hawks. According to a recent study, the Justice Department prosecuted only 11 employers in the entire nation last year. With Pew Research Center estimating that about 11 million undocumented persons are living and working in the United States, the Justice Department is prosecuting at a rate of just one employer for every one million undocumented persons.

Immigration, it seems, is an offense committed solely by undocumented persons. While the president has charged that undocumented workers take away jobs from citizens, neither political party appears eager to deal with those employers who give away those jobs, despite undocumented persons making up an estimated 5 percent of the workforce. In California, Nevada, and Texas, they make up almost 10 percent of the workforce.

Toughness does not extend to those who benefit most from unlawful hiring. There are no federal agents being asked to get “a little rough” with corporate executives. On paper, federal law is clear and tough. It is illegal to hire, recruit, or refer illegal immigrants for hire. It also is illegal to fail to verify work authorization. Knowledge of unlawful hiring can be inferred from the lack of proof or from suspicious job applications.

Moreover, the laws are based on the assumption of enforcement actions that ratchet up punishment to deter repeat offenders. The penalty for every illegal worker rises from $2,000 to as much as $10,000 by the third offense. Knowingly hiring illegal workers can result in six months of jail, while “harboring” such workers can result in up to 10 years in prison. Yet, if there is little enforcement, then the hiring of undocumented persons remains not just a cost of doing business but a small cost in general.

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