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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 21, 2020 3 months ago

We can verify this: E-Verify is not a fix

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Leave us alone. Let us do what we do in peace.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

When you get right down to it, it really isn’t anyone’s business what business owners pay a person they hire. No employer should be forced to pay anyone a government-imposed wage.

It’s a private matter, a peaceful agreement between two people. Nobody’s business but those two.

Look at it this way: The employer-employee relationship is no different than any other business transaction. When you buy an apple in the grocery store, it’s a peaceful transaction. The store owner sets a price. If you think it makes sense, you pay the price. If you don’t, you don’t buy the apple.

The government really has no business meddling in that exchange. That’s not in the Constitution. And that’s capitalism at work — a peaceful exchange that benefits the buyer and seller.

Likewise in the hiring process. It’s a peaceful exchange and agreement between two people. It’s really nobody’s business who a business owner hires. Certainly no business owners want government mandating whom they should or can hire. And no business owner we know wants to be coerced at the point of a government gun to tell the state or federal governments whom the company is hiring.

Leave us alone. Let us do what we do in peace.

As long as we don’t break the law.

And that’s where the conundrum arises.

That’s why Gov. Ron DeSantis; Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon; and others in the Florida Senate want our state government to mandate an E-Verify employment system. They want to put the onus on all employers to verify whether the person the employer is about to hire is legally authorized to work and be in Florida.

DeSantis and Lee, the sponsor of Senate Bill 664, the E-Verify bill pending in the Legislature, think the state should step in where the federal government has failed. After all, the   Migration Policy Institute estimates there are 656,000 people living illegally in Florida. And many of them are employees at Florida businesses.

“This isn’t about immigration,” Lee told members of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee on Tuesday. “In my view, it has to do with whether or not we are going to uphold the rule of law.”

In his opening statement, Lee told committee members: “Hiring illegal aliens is against the law. … It’s every employer’s responsibility to make sure he is following the law.

“For all too long, we’ve gone with the honor system in this country because we have preferred to exploit. … We exploit these people when they get here. We push them underground. They live in the shadows in fear of deportation because they know they’re not here legally. And they’ll work for pennies on the dollar for what we would have to pay lawful Americans.

“And that is just wrong. And we can continue to turn a blind eye to that in the name of capitalism and the almighty dollar, or we could stand up to the rule of law in this Senate.”

Ah, this nasty conundrum.

Lee knows full well that if he traveled a short way east from Brandon to Plant City, many of his agricultural friends and business owners would tell him this fact: Even if we deported all 656,000 of those here illegally, those Plant City strawberry and blueberry growers would be unable to hire enough people to harvest their crops. Americans don’t want those jobs.

Then pay more.

We all know the consequences of that, too: If the growers pay more to hire only Americans, consumer prices for U.S. strawberries and blueberries will become uncompetitive to foreign berry prices, which would leave growers with another lousy choice — go out of business and likely convert their crop land to another use, e.g., residential development, which, of course, many Floridians don’t want that, either.

So what do the growers and businesses do? They weigh the risk: How likely will it be that federal or state immigration authorities will raid my shop, arrest the immigrants and fine me? I, the employer, can always claim that when I asked all the new employees if they were legal, they showed papers saying they were. How was I supposed to know they carried falsified documents?

That’s why DeSantis and Lee want E-Verify.

Lee will cite many of the statistics of its 95% rate of accuracy and its ease of use (see box). “It takes literally three minutes to get on E-Verify and verify the accuracy of an I-9 (a federal form every new hire must complete at every business).”

As the proponents and opponents see it, a mandated E-Verify system will help shift the burden of responsibility — of actively verifying whether an individual to be hired is in the country legally or illegally — to the employers.

On the face of it, that sounds like a good thing. As Lee says, employers should follow the rule of law.

Indeed, they should.

If they did, DeSantis, Lee and others would not be pursuing a new government mandate. But at the same time, another mandate wouldn’t be needed if federal and state governments enforced the laws that say you can’t hire any people who come to the U.S. illegally.

If you want to change behavior, change the incentives. Severe punishment often does wonders for changing behavior.

But what elected politician has the stomach, or courage, for that?

Imagine shutting down Florida’s agricultural industry, the public outcry for deporting farm workers, the consumer complaints when the prices of fruits and vegetables shoot up.

There is no easy answer.

The way it’s looking so far, E-Verify is not likely to become law once again. (Former Gov. Rick Scott tried as well.) A similar E-Verify bill in the House hasn’t moved in any of the House committees. That’s usually a telltale sign a bill is destined to die.

Suffice it to say, Florida employers don’t want more government mandates. Leave us alone.

What everyone really wants is for Congress to do its job. Immigration is a federal issue. It’s not an issue for Florida’s businesses to solve.

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