Nevertheless, S 744 fails to adequately prevent migrants with temporary visas from overstaying. As a result, the Congressional Budget Office predicts the bill will only decrease overall future flows of unauthorized migrants by 33 to 50 percent. To effectively prevent overstayers requires a biometric visa exit tracking system and an electronic employment verification system that’s coupled with vastly increased workplace enforcement by the Labor Department. Unfortunately, the bill falls far short.
S 744 only requires a biometric tracking system at 30 airports within six years. And although it makes the existing electronic employment verification system, known as E-Verify, mandatory for all employers, businesses will still employ unauthorized workers by classifying them as “independent contractors” or keeping them off the official payroll. The only way to tackle this fatal weakness is to increase the number of inspectors auditing their books.
Shockingly, the bill does not increase staffing or funding for the enforcement of labor standards. Some 40,000 border patrol agents will guard an already-safe border, while only 1,100 wage and hour investigators will police 7 million employers. And nothing in the bill guarantees even current funding levels for labor inspectors.
On balance, the Senate bill is already a disappointment. Too often, it advances special interests rather than the national interest. It is difficult to imagine how it will promote broadly shared prosperity or the rule of law if it fails to legalize millions of the undocumented and fails to prevent a new population of unauthorized migrants.
On the one hand, legalizing those unauthorized migrants who can clear the bill’s hurdles will be incredibly beneficial. That much deserves support. However, if the House throws any more roadblocks in the path to legalization and citizenship, or weakens labor standards in guest worker programs, it will become clear that Congress’ reform effort has failed. Such an immigration law would do more harm than good.
Daniel Costa is the Economic Policy Institute’s director of Immigration Law and Policy Research.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.