Texas Republicans hollered long and loud about President Barack Obama’s well-documented shortcomings on border security. Led by former Gov. Rick Perry and current Gov. Greg Abbott, they repeatedly sued the administration over Washington’s failure to enforce federal immigration laws.
Yet the Lone Star State is failing to stem the employment of illegal immigrants within its borders. By refusing to employ the federal E-Verify system for vetting applicants’ legal status, the state turns a blind eye to illegal hiring across Texas.
Since 2014, state agencies and their private contractors have been required to use E-Verify to screens for undocumented or ineligible workers. But, as the Texas Tribune reported, no state agency has been assigned to oversee compliance. It is unclear what, if any, sanctions apply for not using the system.
A bill to penalize contractors that circumvent E-Verify and bar them from state business for five years failed in the 2017 Legislature. The state has more than 30,000 active government contracts with private businesses, valued at more than $91 billion, according to the Legislative Budget Board.
So, while GOP lawmakers thumped their chests for cracking down on sanctuary cities in Texas, they did nothing to turn off the job magnet that lures illegal immigrants into the state.
As a result, the National Conference of State Legislatures gives Texas only a middling grade on workplace enforcement. The state ranks below the seven states that require all private employers to use E-Verify and behind 17 other states that that impose sanctions for noncompliance.
Some 616,620 employers across the U.S. were enrolled in E-Verify at the end of fiscal year 2015, according to government records.
Polls show more than 80 percent of Texas voters – including a majority of Hispanics — approve of employment screenings. So why are Texas lawmakers so skittish about E-Verify?
State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, suggested that “SB4 put [lawmakers]on edge,” referring to Texas’ anti-sanctuary city legislation (now under court challenge). Without any Democrats on board, Republican leaders punted on E-Verify, again.
But doing nothing does real damage.
First, wages are artificially depressed by illegals who labor in a shadow economy. Companies that employ illegal workers hold an unfair cost advantage over law-abiding firms that pay taxes and benefits. It becomes a race to the bottom for pay and workplace conditions.
Second, taxpayers are stuck with a growing tab for social services. While the number of illegals working in Texas is unknown, state and local agencies estimate they spent $2.8 billion tending to illegals since 2013. Costs range from $1.4 billion at the Texas Department of Public Safety to $181.2 million by K-12 public schools.
By failing to mandate E-Verify, Texas enables profiteering by lawless employers while socializing more costs onto the law-abiding public.
Since Gov. Abbott didn’t make room for E-Verify on his 20-point agenda for the special legislative session this summer, Texans can expect business as usual for another two years. Without enthusiasm, Geren said lawmakers might revisit the issue in 2019. If past is prologue, talk will trump action when it comes to actually holding employers accountable.