Florida Lawmaker Files Anti-Immigrant "E-Verify" Bill to Ban Undocumented Workers

Florida State Rep. Thad Altman
Florida State Rep. Thad Altman Florida House of Representatives
click to enlarge Florida State Rep. Thad Altman - FLORIDA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Florida State Rep. Thad Altman
Florida House of Representatives
Florida State Rep. Thad Altman was born in Macon, Georgia, in 1955. He moved to Florida in 1957 and has been basically a carpetbagger delivering Deep South hatred into Florida ever since. He has one of those old-white-dude names that is essentially just "Monocle Q. Racism."

In a depressingly on-trend move for late 2018, the Melbourne, Florida, representative yesterday filed an "E-Verify" bill that would, if enacted, force all employers to run citizenship checks on potential employees.

If the bill passes, job applicants would have to be run through a federal database that has for years been known to contain errors. In 2013, the New York Times noted that mandatory E-Verify programs slow down and needlessly complicate the hiring process for all workers in a given state. In the meantime, data show that E-Verify programs do little to combat undocumented immigration.

"Citizens and residents who abide by the law are having the opportunity to work taken away from them," Altman wrote yesterday, despite data not backing up his claim. "Hiring illegal immigrants gives some businesses a clear advantage with cheap labor, but a lot of businesses want to do this right. This is a real problem, and we have to fix it."

Facts, however, show this is not the "problem" Altman claims it to be. (New Times wrote weeks ago that undocumented immigration to Florida is shrinking.) Moreover, E-Verify is clearly not an effective solution.

The concept is a mainstay of hard-right, jingoistic, and racist media outlets such as Breitbart and Fox News, two outright propaganda farms that choose to ignore basic science and straight-up incorrectly say immigrants bring crime to the country and suck up resources. The American far right now blames undocumented immigrants for all kinds of societal ailments. They make these claims even though studies overwhelmingly suggest immigration is a net positive for the country, does not increase crime, and does not hurt the employment rate. Right-wing pundits, such as Tomi Lahren, are currently spreading the lie that immigrants bring disease to the country, which is, without exaggeration, a thing the Nazis used to say about Jews.

Those are the sorts of people before whom Altman is genuflecting. Racist cretins. E-Verify works by sending I-9 employment forms to the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration. Obviously, the system does not work if employers just hire people under the table and pay them cash. After Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided a series of 7-Eleven stores that were employing undocumented workers, the San Jose Mercury News looked into E-Verify and found it was remarkably easy for employers to skip around it. Unsurprisingly, even right-leaning think tanks such as the Koch Brothers-funded Cato Institute say E-Verify doesn't actually cut down on undocumented immigration. It just makes life harder for immigrants who are already here and trying to buy milk and diapers for their kids.

Astoundingly, Cato found that E-verify does not even work when used correctly. Per the (again, libertarian-right-leaning) institute, 54 percent of undocumented workers in one study were accidentally approved for work and passed through the system. (Internal government audits confirm this.) Plus, Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, and South Carolina have enacted mandatory E-Verify systems — and, as of 2013, roughly half of employers were running job-seekers through the programs. E-Verify did next to nothing to curb undocumented immigration in those states.

The American Civil Liberties Union also has significant concerns about the privacy issues E-Verify programs raise. The ACLU also worries about false positives and says it's likely that thousands of valid workers will be denied access purely by accident if E-Verify is enacted in more states.

(Progressive critics of the U.S. immigration system say instead that the country ought to make it easier to become a citizen and obtain worker protections under the law, and that employers should be more aggressively punished for paying less than the minimum wage or forcing immigrants into dangerous conditions.)

Moreover, academics studying immigration say immigrants do not hurt the employment rate of natural-born American citizens and in most cases improve the economy. One academic who disagrees, George Borjas, is a significant outlier in his field and has been criticized for using faulty methodology to repeatedly reach the same conclusions. (It is perhaps not stunning that Borjas loves Trump and that the Trump administration loves his data.)

E-Verify, however, was a mainstay of Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis' paltry campaign platform. Florida's 60-day legislative session does not begin until March — this, unfortunately, will not be the last time Floridians hear about this bill this year.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.