COVID-19 hit Massachusetts harder than most states. And while our state economy is limping back, it still hasn’t fully recovered. Just 62.4% of the population was employed in May 2021, according to the latest available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s down from 64.5% in February 2020, just before the pandemic started. About 229,000 of our fellow residents are still unemployed, more than double the 104,600 who were jobless in February 2020.
The last thing our workers need is competition from illegal immigrants. That’s why a new bill — recently introduced in the state Legislature and designed to prohibit employers from hiring these unlawful workers — makes so much sense.
American employers are technically barred from hiring unauthorized laborers. And they’re required to verify that hires are authorized to work here. But in practice, those laws are toothless. It’s extremely easy for illegal workers to forge the documents they need to pass the perfunctory “I-9” verification form that all new laborers fill out when they start a new job. Many employers accept these documents, some of which are obvious forgeries, with a wink and a nod. In fact, up to 190,000 people illegally work in Massachusetts — about 5% of the commonwealth’s labor force.
The bill that Reps. David F. DeCoste (R-5th Plymouth District), Bradley H. Jones Jr. (R-20th Middlesex District), Michael J. Soter (R-8th Worcester District) and Susan Williams Gifford (R-2nd Plymouth District) recently introduced in the state Legislature would help beat these forgeries and ensure that jobs only go to citizens and legal residents. It would mandate that all employers use E-Verify, the federal online vetting system that cross-references workers’ documents with Social Security and other databases to confirm that people actually are who they say they are — and can work legally.
Illegal hiring harms legal job-seekers — native-born and legal immigrant alike — in two ways. First, they are in direct competition for scarce jobs, especially for lesser-skilled labor on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.
The second form of harm is more insidious. Illegal immigrants come here because even at the lowest wage rates, they can make considerably more than they would at home. Because many employers are all too happy to accept their willingness to work for less, the presence of these workers in the labor force depresses incomes across the board.
Harvard’s George Borjas, a leading scholar on immigration, notes a basic truth of economics: When the supply of workers goes up, the price that firms have to pay to hire workers goes down. His research has shown that across all skill levels, a 10% increase in the number of workers due to immigration will result in a 3% reduction in wages. On a nationwide scale, Borjas wrote in 2016, the result is an annual $500 billion transfer from workers to employers due to diminished wages.
E-Verify is especially needed in Massachusetts, which has become a magnet for illegal workers. We actually saw the largest increase in illegal laborers of any state from 2007 to 2017.
They wouldn’t be coming to our state in such burgeoning numbers if they weren’t confident they could find work here, their legal status notwithstanding. That’s where a statewide E-Verify requirement could really make a difference. Employers will no longer be able to wink at obviously bogus documents. Under the draft Massachusetts bill — and many other laws in force in the eight other states that already have broad E-Verify mandates — employers who try to evade the system would face a probationary period in which they must demonstrate compliance or potentially lose their business operating licenses.
E-Verify will even deter folks from coming here illegally in the first place — a journey that all too often exposes people to sexual abuse and cartel violence. Indeed, studies have shown that when states adopt E-Verify, the number of recent illegal immigrants falls by 40%.
In short, E-Verify is effective, good for American workers and the most humane way to halt illegal immigration. That explains why it’s overwhelmingly popular with voters. One nationwide Rasmussen poll, taken in early June, shows that 69% of voters favor making E-Verify mandatory for employers, with only 17% opposed.
To bring Massachusetts back from the doldrums of COVID-19, our lawmakers must take the steps necessary to support our workers. Requiring E-Verify is a good place to start.
John Thompson is co-chair of the Massachusetts Coalition for Immigration Reform.
Published at Mon, 19 Jul 2021 09:43:04 +0000