Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are set to vote this week on new legislation that would greatly increase the federal government’s power over private businesses, workers, and US citizens. Unfortunately, much of the GOP majority is supportive of the legislation—the “Border Security and Enforcement Act of 2023” (HR 2640)—because it is being marketed as a bill “to secure the border.”
Much of the bill contains reasonable provisions such allowing state attorneys general the authority to sue the federal government for refusing to detain illegal aliens. Other provisions include denying asylum and residency to known criminals. In many ways, the bill is an effort to rein in the executive branch’s control over immigration policy.
Alarmingly, however, the legislation also contains a provision mandating nationwide use of “E-Verify” which is essentially a federal surveillance program that determines whether or not a person can be legally employed in the United States. Every American would require the federal government’s permission to work. So long as the Border Security and Enforcement Act contains these E-Verify provisions, the bill presents a clear and present danger to basic American freedoms and property rights. The expansion of E-Verify would also go a long way in helping the federal government build essential infrastructure that in the future could be used to implement “social credit scores” or restrictions on employment for those who refuse federally mandated vaccines or other mandates.
E-Verify as Government Surveillance
E-Verify was initially implemented in 1997 as a program designed to prevent companies from employing foreign nationals who had entered the US illegally—i.e., “illegal aliens.” The program was never made mandatory at the federal level, however. The program has generally been voluntary except for government employees in most states. Instead, mandated use of E-Verify has been a matter of state legislation, and some states have certainly been more enthusiastic about it than others.
Since implementation, only nine states have mandated the use of E-Verify for all employers. Florida is poised to be the next to impose these mandates on employers. Governor Ron DeSantis has repeatedly pushed to further regulate and surveil private businesses with universal E-Verify. Some states, such as Colorado, have implemented alternative, but similar, state-administered programs.
The Border Security and Enforcement Act of 2023, however, would mandate nationwide use of E-Verify for all employers, and remove state-level authority to approve or decline participation. In other words, Congress is now considering one of the largest expansions of federal employment regulation in years.
As if often the case, however, conservatives and Republicans are happy to embrace more federal power and regulation when it suits their political agendas. It’s an old trick. Beginning in the days of the “War on Terror,” conservatives and the GOP often promoted and approved new “antiterrorism” legislation creating vast federal spying and prosecutorial powers. Supporters often supposed such powers could only possibly be used against Islamic terrorists and other official enemies of the Bush Administration. A federal spying apparatus has since been erected and deployed against virtually all Americans.
Similar pro-regime arguments are now being used to promote E-Verify. We’re told it will only be used against immigrants. We’re told that unless you’re breaking the law, you have nothing to worry about. We’ve heard these claims in other contexts many times before.
Observers who have refused to be taken in by the anti-immigrant hysterics have provided some key sanity. Last week, for example, Congressman Thomas Massie warned against keeping E-Verify in the proposed bill, writing
If, heaven forbid, the United States government ever adopts a social credit score, National E-Verify is one more tool they can use to prevent honest people from being part of society. Believe what you will, but it will have little impact on illegal immigration into this country.
Massie specifically noted the legislation could be used to enforce federal vaccine mandates as well:
Republicans are about to make a huge mistake. Biden forced millions of Americans to take VACCINES by threatening their JOBS, and turning EMPLOYERS into enforcers. Imagine giving Biden the ultimate on/off switch for EMPLOYMENT called E-verify. Might as well call it V-verify.
Massie, of course, has long been a noted disciple of Ron Paul, so it’s not surprising the Massie’s concerns reflect those of Paul’s. For his part, Paul has opposed E-Verify since its early years, and in the past decade has specifically warned it could be used to essentially create a broad federal permission-to-work regime. In 2018 he wrote:
E-Verify almost certainly will be used for purposes unrelated to immigration. One potential use of E-Verify is to limit the job prospects of anyone whose lifestyle displeases the government. This could include those accused of failing to pay their fair share in taxes, those who homeschool or do not vaccinate their children, or those who own firearms.
Unscrupulous government officials could use E-Verify against those who practice antiwar, anti-tax, anti-surveillance, and anti-Federal Reserve activism. Those who consider this unlikely should remember the long history of the IRS targeting the political enemies of those in power and the use of anti-terrorism laws to harass antiwar activists. They should also consider the current moves to outlaw certain types of “politically incorrect” speech, such as disputing the alleged “consensus” regarding climate change.
Expanding Federal Control of Employers
The potential for abuse of E-Verify is, of course, enormous.
But even if applied specifically to immigration matters, imposing yet more federal regulations on every American entrepreneur and employer is hardly a reasonable way to approach immigration policy. Cracking down on productive employers—and landlords—has always been utterly incompatible with basic property rights and market freedom. Such measures amount to little more than unleashing armed federal agents on private businesses for the “crime” of not having the correct federal paperwork.
In his article “The Tragedy of Immigration Enforcement,” Lew Rockwell notes how the last thing this country needs is more federal bureaucrats shutting down more businesses. When federal agents shut down a restaurant for employing the non-government-approved workers,
the government is busting up a whole series of voluntary labor relationships that are designed to provide people with good food. Let us be clear: to the extent that many people object to illegal immigration, it has nothing to do with those who go to work and make an honest living doing things like working in restaurants. The problem with illegal immigration is related to other issues that drive people crazy, like going on welfare, engaging in actual (not pretend) crime, and demanding tax-funded support services.
Proponents of E-Verify, of course, claim it is all very employer friendly, and takes mere “minutes” to use. Sure. It takes a heroic amount of faith in the government to assume that E-Verify will be the first federal regulatory program that makes life easier for private businesses—many of which are small businesses with razor-thin profit margins.
If E-Verify proves to be little more than just one more costly hoop for business owners to jump through, that will be the best-case scenario. It is more likely that E-Verify will gradually turn into a model or a hub for new programs that tie work eligibility to any number of federal mandates and requirements for “good”—i.e., obedient—citizenship. After all, if the last three years have taught us anything, it’s that the federal government is more than willing to unilaterally expand and interpret federal policies in whatever way federal policymakers please. Note, for example, how the Biden Administration used Medicare and Medicaid funding as a means to ram through vaccine mandates at hospitals. And note how the administration used OSHA as a backdoor method of imposing vaccine mandates on employers. OSHA was not created to enforce such mandates, but this didn’t stop the White House from telling it to do so. E-Verify would provide a similar way for the federal government to leverage its power against all employers in America.
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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