06/24/2011 02:55 pm ET | Updated Aug 24, 2011

The GOP's Schism On E-Verify

As someone who follows immigration issues daily, I find Congressman Lamar Smith's (TX-R) crusade to pass mandatory E-Verify fascinating.

Lets be clear here: Employer verification systems are a good idea. We need to stop businesses from exploiting migrants for their bottom line. But the problem with E-Verify is that it is incredibly expensive for small businesses and also error-prone.

What I find fascinating about the new GOP plan to make E-Verify mandatory nationally is the way that it so very clearly angers three of the most steadfast supporters of the Republican party: states' rights conservatives, business conservatives and rural conservatives and in fact hurts our recovering economy.

Breaking this down a bit:

States Rights Conservatives: Kris Kobach and Russell Pearce, the two masterminds of Arizona's infamous SB1070 legislation, have both come out strongly against a federal bill making E-Verify mandatory.

Russell noted in a recent Politico op-ed:

I would still support this bill, were it not that this act would preempt state and local ordinances -- like our Legal Arizona Workers Act. So less than a month after the Supreme Court supported our act, supporters of immigration control have teamed up with the Chamber of Commerce to enact preemption legislatively. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

So basically, the congressional legislation would in many ways invalidate the 17 or so states who currently require businesses to use E-Verify.

Kris Kobach puts it another way, calling the Republican mandatory E-Verify legislation Another Amnesty .

Kobach is even more explicit regarding his problems with the bill:

While the Smith bill sounds good, in fact, it hobbles immigration enforcement. Negotiated with the pro-amnesty U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the bill would establish a fairly toothless E-Verify requirement while defanging the only government bodies that are serious about enforcing immigration law -- the states. The timing couldn't be worse. The bill stabs Arizona in the back.

Yikes, Kobach and the Nativists in the party do not sound happy that the National GOP has negotiated (such a dirty word to the GOP these days) with the National Chamber of Commerce. Which brings us to businesses:

It is true that the National Chamber has endorsed this, however if you actually read their endorsement, they say they have a lot of misgivings about whether the bill actually works.

But I digress. If you google E-Verify and The Chamber of Commerce, you will find that the Chamber has been engaged in several law suits and legislative battles in Arizona and Florida to prevent mandatory E-Verify legislation.

In fact, in the case of Arizona the Chamber was engaged in a brutal battle with the state that went to the Supreme Court. They lost, and Congressman Smith has cited this outcome case as the reason to push national mandatory reform.

Why? Because as our friends on the right love say (and we agree), small businesses are the economic drivers of our country. Yet if E-Verify is passed it will cost small businesses 3.4 Billion dollars a year. For all businesses that number is closer to 17 billion dollars a year.

Which might be worth it if the program actually worked. While 99 percent of those who are citizens are correctly identified as such, only 54 percent of undocumented immigrants are actually caught as well. Mind you this is only at 4 percent of the current workforce. So imagine if you extend that to the entire population and you are looking at firing around 3 million legal working Americans.

In fact in states like Arizona where they are required to use E-Verify, only about one-third of all businesses in Arizona actually use the program.

Finally, lets not forget the agriculture industry:

In Georgia where they mandated E-Verify in their just-passed state immigration law, their workforce was decimated. With no undocumented laborers in the field, the governor was literally forced to use paroled criminals to fill the workforce. Unfortunately they all quit after three hours... The agriculture industry stands to lose around a billion dollars if they do not find workers soon.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal's program to replace fleeing migrant farm workers with probationers backfired when some of the convicted criminals started walking off their jobs because field work was too strenuous, it was reported Wednesday. And the state's farms could lose up to $1 billion if crops continue to go unpicked and rot, the president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council warned. In a story datelined Leslie, in rural south Georgia, The Associated Press writes of convicts calling it quits at 3:25 p.m. -- more than 2½ hours before the crew of Mexicans and Guatemalans they replaced.

So E-Verify may hurt our economy by putting undue stress on our agriculture and business sectors, and states are mad about it being forced down their throats. It makes perfect sense that the GOP would try to pass this now. Lets be honest here, if they were serious about this the GOP would come to the table to pass legislation that deals with future flow or the 11.1 million people who are currently here.

So as I said, given all that we know about what this legislation does to the economy the GOP's push to pass it is nothing short of fascinating in its sheer audacity and lack of foresight for what will actually help our country's economy.