The House Judiciary Committee devoted two days this week to the markup of three enforcement-only immigration bills. The legislation would strip much-needed protections from an already vulnerable population–including children and asylum seekers–impact the agriculture industry, place burdensome requirements on small business owners, and cost the American taxpayer a lot of money.

The Legal Workforce Act, introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), would make E-verify mandatory for all employers, something that would prove problematic for small businesses and the agriculture industry. This bill, also introduced in 2011, faced bipartisan opposition. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) all discussed the history of state-level mandatory E-verify in Georgia, which caused extensive economic damage to the agricultural industry in that state. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) raised the burden mandatory E-Verify has on small businesses, saying that the program could cost them $24,000 to implement. Despite these objections, the Legal Workforce Act was recommended to the House without change by a vote of 20-13.

It is unlikely that mandatory E-verify in isolation of broader reforms would meet its objective of preventing undocumented immigrants from working. Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute argues that “expanding E-Verify now would raise the regulatory cost of hiring”–a cost borne by American business–“without doing anything to stop illegal immigration.” Furthermore, mandatory E-Verify could cost U.S. citizens their jobs given that the system continues to contain errors that result in work-authorized individuals being told that they cannot work.

The House Judiciary Committee also considered two bills described by Conyers as “mean-spirited and short-sighted,” namely, the Protection of Children and the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Acts. The Asylum Reform Act would significantly narrow the definition of Unaccompanied Alien Children (UACs), which would result in a substantial increase in the number of children detained long term. Both of these bills would prohibit the government from providing legal representation to anyone in removal proceedings, making worse the current system which already forces children, even 3-year-olds, to fend for themselves in immigration court.

Both of these bills also make it harder for those fleeing violence and persecution to seek asylum in the United States. The asylum measure would raise the standard for the initial “credible fear” screening, likely resulting in the deportation of many individuals with legitimate claims for protection. Further, according to Human Rights First, the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act also appears to prevent asylum seekers who “passed the credible fear process from being paroled from immigration detention,” something that could cost the American taxpayer $159 a day as we hold asylum seekers unnecessarily in detention. With 6,647 individuals since October found to have “credible fear”—meaning that they will now be permitted to apply for asylum—coupled with the increase in detention of unaccompanied children, these bills would come with a hefty price tag. Like the Legal Workforce Act, the Protection of Children Act was recommended to the House without amendments with a vote of 17-13, while the vote on the Asylum Reform act was rescheduled for a later date.

It’s time to stop walking down this tired and costly path. Rolling back protections for asylum seekers and children at a time when they already face obstacles to pursuing their legal claims raises serious red flags. Moreover, the enforcement-first approach to immigration has not worked. The United States has approached immigration this way for decades, with more and more money spent, while the undocumented population grew. It is unclear whether and when these bills will be taken up by the full House or the Senate, but it is certain that they are distracting from the important job Congress should be doing: passing real, meaningful legislative reform.

Photo by Andrew Magill.

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