Originally published by LA Times
President Donald Trump's relationship with the truth has been cause for much discussion.
A running tally by The Washington Post reported that as of last month the president had made more than 10,000 false or misleading claims.
But he can seem disarmingly honest and recently his candor about one aspect of immigration enforcement turned some heads.
Immigration experts have long said the most effective way to combat illegal immigration is to turn off the jobs magnet — the main attraction for unauthorized people to enter the United States. The best way to do that at the moment is through E-Verify, a database through which employers can compare information about job applicants to Department of Homeland Security and Social Security records.
Some states require E-Verify. In others, many employers use it voluntarily, as does the Trump Organization, though his businesses started using E-Verify after widespread news coverage that his companies had hired unauthorized immigrants. Critics in the past said the system could be easily manipulated and was error prone, though it has been improved. That was not Trump's concern when Steve Hilton of Fox News asked him last week whether mandatory E-Verify was going to be part of his proposed overhaul of immigration laws.
"So E-Verify is going to be possibly a part of it," the president responded. "The one problem is E-Verify is so tough that in some cases, like farmers, they're not — they're not equipped for E-Verify. I mean I'd say that's against Republicans. A lot of the Republicans say you go through an E-Verify. I used it when I built the hotel down the road on Pennsylvania Avenue. I use a very strong E-Verify system. And we would go through 28 people — 29, 30 people before we found one that qualified.
"So it's a very tough thing to ask a farmer to go through that. So in a certain way, I speak against myself, but you also have to have a world of some practicality."
In other words, he thought it worked pretty well. (It must be noted that it's extremely rare to go through that many applicants for one position.)
Trump has talked about worker verification at least since his 2016 campaign. While there has been speculation that mandatory use of E-Verify, or some other worker-verification system, may be part of the Trump immigration plan, it's unclear where he stands. An electronic employee-verification system has been held up by experts as the key to cracking down on illegal immigration for decades, yet for Congress and the White House, whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats, have resisted.
In the past, an unusual but powerful coalition of interests stopped mandatory verification systems: business groups, civil rights organizations, immigrant advocates, some religious groups and some unions. The AFL-CIO traditionally had supported a strong verification program because of concern that unauthorized immigrants not only were taking jobs away from legal workers, but driving down wages. A split developed in the 1990s in large part because a growing number of union members were immigrants.
Meanwhile, employers have benefited from cheap labor.
As a result, then as now, the tough-on-immigration approach was to expand budgets, increase personnel and build fences — even place the military at the border. Those all may be effective to varying degrees, but immigration experts agree none would have the impact of turning off the jobs spigot.
This was all laid out in 1997 in an award-winning series by Marcus Stern, then of Copley News Service, that was published in The San Diego Union-Tribune. Stern dissected how those often disparate interests came together to keep even a computerized verification pilot program out of a sweeping immigration bill in 1996.
"Since 1951, one immigration commission after another has told Congress that jobs fuel illegal immigration," Stern wrote.
He pointed out the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform concluded in a September 1994 report that "Reducing the employment magnet is the linchpin of a comprehensive strategy to reduce illegal immigration"
More specifically, the report said, "A computer registry to verify that a Social Security number is valid and has been issued to someone authorized to work in the U.S. is the most promising option for eliminating fraud and reducing discrimination while protecting individual privacy."
Then-President Bill Clinton and Congress didn't go there. Instead, the administration launched Operation Gatekeeper, putting more money and agents into on-the-ground border enforcement in San Diego.
Throughout the years, authorities have conducted high-profile workplace sweeps, but that has done little to change the dynamic. An effective verification system could weed out unauthorized workers and preempt other ones from getting jobs to begin with. However, care would have to be taken with the roll out to avoid huge economic disruption.
Verification has been problematic in the past. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 approved by Congress and signed President Ronald Reagan required employers to check that employees had the proper papers to work, but the system collapsed under a flood of fraudulent documents. Businesses were not equipped to to verify the documents.
Meanwhile, civil libertarians and others have warned against a national government registry they say could be used for all sorts of purposes, even though a Social Security data base already exists. E-Verify is a quantum leap from what was in the 1986 act, of course, but no system is perfect. Even terrorist watch lists occasionally include people who don't belong there. But such errors in the worker-verification system can be, or should be, easily rectified.
A volunteer "self check" E-Verify system has been developed for people to confirm they are authorized to work before applying for a job. Some time ago, a pilot program was proposed to test this out at businesses. The employer would only have to direct an applicant to a computer where the prospective employee would go straight to the Department of Homeland Security, where the verification would be made upon reviewing the database. That would largely relieve employers of responsibility and save them money, potentially making it appealing to businesses.
Whether that proposal has regained momentum or stalled is uncertain.
It's hard to speculate what Trump will do, given he has expressed both support for and caution about E-Verify.
Earlier this year, the president requested $122 million for the electronic verification program in 2020. That's an 8 percent cut from the current year.