While Texas officials talk tough about sanctuary cities, their record on employment of illegal immigrants is much softer.
“Those wishing to regain control of illegal immigration have always known that one key to doing so is to turn off the jobs magnet that draws many illegals here,” said David Ray, spokesman for the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick lists implementation of E-Verify employment vetting as a top legislative priority this year. Senate Bill 23 would require Texas businesses to use the federal database as a precondition to receiving state contracts.
But Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Joe Straus have not signed on to the idea, lending credence to enforcement advocates complaints that the state’s Republican leaders are more comfortable with talk than action.
Meantime, SB 23 is encountering pushback from Democrats and others who vilify E-Verify as a “show-us-your-papers” system.
E-Verify compares information applicants submit on their I-9 employment-eligibility documents to 80 million records maintained by the Department of Homeland Security and 445 million records at the Social Security Administration.
JoAnn Fleming, executive director of the conservative activist group Grassroots America, says Texas’ current laissez-faire policies exploit workers.
“The Chamber of Commerce, labor lobbyists and economic developers with liberal media complain about exploited workers. OK, exploited by whom? By companies willfully ignoring immigration laws,” she told Watchdog.org.
Illegal immigrants employed at Target and H-E-B stores were highlighted in a Texas Tribune article last month.
San Antonio-based H-E-B has been cited as a key opponent of legislation banning sanctuary cities. In a statement, the grocery chain said it “does not hire illegal immigrants.”
“It’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ system that allows employers to benefit from cheap immigrant labor,” the Tribune report found.
“Undocumented workers would not be exploited if the cheap-labor lovers weren’t hiring them,” Fleming said. “Employers are breaking the law and the people in charge of enforcing the law aren’t enforcing it. It is an ugly cycle of exploitation of human beings.”
While the number of illegals working in Texas is unknown, officials estimate state and local agencies have spent $2.8 billion tending to undocumented individuals since 2013. Costs range from $1.4 billion at the Texas Department of Public Safety to $181.2 million by K-12 public schools.
“Texas taxpayers are carrying a tremendous financial burden,” said state Rep. John Wray, R-Waxahachie.
Fleming asserts that Texas’ “incremental” moves against employment of illegals are going nowhere.
“If the governor, the lieutenant governor and the speaker got together and agreed on a comprehensive E-Verify bill, this problem would be solved,” she said.
SB 23, the E-Verify bill by state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, is another small step.
It builds on his 2015 measure, SB 374, which requires all hires at state agencies or public colleges to be run through E-Verify. SB 23 would extend that requirement to companies seeking contract work with the state – but goes no further.
According to the Legislative Budget Board, the state has more than 30,000 active government contracts with private businesses, valued at more than $91 billion.
During the 2015 session, Abbott was asked why he backed legislation that did not include an E-Verify requirement for state contractors. He answered that the watered-down bill would “impose no burdens on the private market.”
In his State of the State address on Tuesday, Abbott drew a thunderous standing ovation in calling for an end to sanctuary cities in Texas. They are “unacceptable,” he declared, adding, “it’s time for Texas to take a stand.”
But the Republican governor made no mention of E-Verify or sanctions against employers who hire illegals.
Straus did not respond to Watchdog’s questions about E-Verify or SB 23.
Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton repeatedly took the federal government to court over the Obama administration’s border-busting immigration and refugee policies. Now that the state’s GOP leaders have a White House ally in President Donald Trump, activists expect them to stop suing and start acting, beginning with a statewide universal E-Verify requirement.
“No more smoke and mirrors,” Fleming challenged.
Seven states currently require all private employers to use E-Verify in hiring. Seventeen have laws similar to SB 23.
More than 246,000 employers across the U.S. are enrolled in E-Verify, and roughly 1,300 firms join the program every week, according to government records.
“It’s not until E-Verify is mandatory that we’ll be able to effectively turn off the jobs magnet of illegal immigration,” FAIR’s Ray said.
Kenric Ward writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Kenricward.