Opinion: End the chaos at the border
A caravan of more than 7,000 migrants from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador caused a lot of concern as it barreled north towards the southern border of the United States. Their end goal? Eventual "asylum" status within our borders.
This surge in unfettered immigration is the new normal. The number of families arrested for unlawfully crossing the southern border spiked nearly 40 percent between July and August.
The chaos at the border will continue unless Congress reforms our warped asylum and employment laws, which entice people to illegally journey to the United States.
Nearly all recent deportees came to the United States in pursuit of work, according to the Pew Research Center. It's relatively easy for illegal immigrants to find jobs. Five percent of the workforce is here illegally.
Employers are happy to take advantage of immigrants' cheap labor. Three in four illegal immigrants have worked without compensation.
The federal government has done little to deter illegal hiring. It doesn't require companies to thoroughly vet the legal status of their workers. And it rarely prosecutes employers who knowingly hire illegal workers.
Easily abused asylum policies further incentivize people to come here illegally. Before 2009, only people claiming persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political affiliation, or membership in a particular social group could receive asylum. But early in the Obama administration, the government began granting asylum to people who claimed to be victims of domestic abuse and gang violence.
Suddenly, asylum became a golden ticket to a better life in the United States. The number of asylum seekers has skyrocketed almost 1,700 percent in the past decade. Last year, more than 141,000 immigrants sought asylum.
Most of these asylum claims aren't credible. Eighty percent are ultimately denied by U.S. immigration courts. But by claiming asylum, immigrants can stay in the country for years while their cases are adjudicated.
Competition from illegal workers depresses wages for Americans and legal immigrants, especially ones at the bottom of the socioeconomic totem pole. The average high school dropout earns about $800 less each year due to competition from illegal laborers.
Federal officials could boost Americans' wages, and humanely discourage people from undertaking the dangerous journey across the southern border, by making it harder for illegal workers to find jobs.
Thousands of employers already use the free, online E-Verify system to cross-check new employees' mandatory I-9 forms against other government records such as driver's licenses. In as little as five seconds, the system identifies whether a new hire is authorized to work in the United States.
E-Verify is effective. A 2008 Arizona law mandating the use of E-Verify shrank illegal migration to that state.
Requiring all employers to use E-Verify would drastically reduce illegal immigration. Unlike a multi-billion-dollar wall, the software is already available, free of charge.
Lawmakers should also plug the loopholes in our asylum system. People who sneak across the border should not be allowed to retroactively claim asylum after they've been caught. If people have legitimate asylum applications, they should file them at official ports of entry.
Sadly, until these reforms happen, the chaos at the border will only get worse.
(Deena Flinchum is an IT worker who was employed by the AFL-CIO for 25 years before retiring. She is now a community volunteer in southwest Virginia)