The introduction of a bill, H.R. 2164, in the House of Representatives by Texas Republican Congressman Lamar Smith, who has long been the scourge of immigrants, that would make E-Verify mandatory, with drastic criminal penalties for violations, raises a question about whether that program has turned into a Frankenstein, a Golem, or some other kind of out of control, destructive power.
Frankenstein, it will be remembered, was first introduced to the world in a novel written in the early 19th century by a young woman, Mary Shelley, when she was only 18, and it was published when she was 21. In the novel, Frankenstein, the scion of a wealthy family in Geneva, starts off as a seeker after knowledge but turns into an out of control monster.
The word "Golem", on the other hand, goes back to the Bible and has a long history in Jewish legend and literature, with the general meaning of a shapeless lump. The most famous of all the Golem stories is about a creature that was created by a saintly rabbi in 16th century Prague in order to protect the Jewish community from a pogrom, but which later turned on the people it was supposed to protect, causing widespread fear and destruction until it was finally "decomissioned" by its originator. Actually, it does not matter which one of these legends one compares E-Verify to. Either one will do. There are also many other monster traditions - Godzilla, for example, as well as examples of originally benevolent or not so benevolent spirits gone wild in almost any culture one can mention.
Greek, Roman and ancient Near Eastern traditions are full of malevolent or at least highly unreliable and capricious gods, spirits, or demons. The same can be said of India, Ancient Egypt, East Asia, Africa, Mesoamerica and many other cultures. It is not my intention to be Eurocentric. However, it was a Roman poet, Virgil, who described the danger of letting uncontrollable powers loose as well as anyone else in his comment about Juno, queen of the gods: "tantaene animis celestibus irae?" ("Can heavenly spirits harbor such great anger?").
Virgil's question might well apply to H.R. 2164, if one substitutes the Republicans in place of the heavenly spirits. E-Verify was originally introduced in 1997 as a pilot program by the federal government to assist employers in finding out whether their employess were authorized to work. In 2008, it was extended to federal contractors. The Obama administration has greatly expanded the program, encouraging employers all over the US to sign up for it "voluntarily".
The program has been plagued by allegations that its database is inaccurate and gives a high percentage of false results to the effect that employees are allegedly not authorized to work when in fact they are. Because so many immigrants are Latino, E-Verify also creates a strong incentive for employers not to hire any Spanish-speaking or other minority workers at all, even US citizens, in order to avoid running afoul of the law.
Beginning with Arizona's draconian employer sanctions law, which has just been upheld by the Supreme Court, and which was passed by a Republican legislature but signed by a Democratic governor, Janet Napolitano, the current head of the Department of Homeland Security, and now continuing with H.R. 2164, the Republicans have sought to transform E-Verify from a tool to protect US jobs into an instrument of persecution against minority immigrants.
Let us make no mistake about the Republicans' motives. The Republicans have no more interest in protecting American workers than the goddess Juno did in allowing Aeneas, a Trojan war refugee, to gain asylum in Italy. Republican state legislatures have gone on an orgy of union busting in Wisconsin and other states. In Wisconsin, the Republicans have, at least for the moment, succeeded in depriving employees of public service unions of their collective bargaining rights. Republicans in Maine and Wisconsin have also, incredibly, weakened their states' child labor protection laws in an effort to take America back to the 19th century age of exploitation.
Republicans have also been adamant in their opposition to raising the minimum wage and have passed anti-union "right to work" laws in many states they control, including southern states with a long history of both anti-union hostility and racial discrimination. How many workers' rights proposals has Congressman Smith himself supported in his career? I have not yet done a search, but the answer would most likely be none at all or very few.
Republicans are now also trying to dismantle Medicare and Social Security, the two pillars of America's social safely net, both of which are of crucial importance to working people. No one should be taken in by the Republicans' hypocrisy in trying to put over their anti-immigrant agenda under the guise of protecting American workers. And where is the loudly advertised Republican/Tea Party program of "small government" and opposition to "burdensome, job killing" regulations on business in attempting to let the Frankenstein or Golem of E-Verify run rampant?
However, it is all too easy to blame the Republicans alone for turning E-Verify into a Frankenstein, Golem or other kind of monster or malevolent spirit. But what about the people who created E-Verify in the first place? What about the people who allowed programs such as INA Section 287(g) and "Secure Communities" to turn into such monstrosities?
When E-Verify was initiated in 1997, Bill Clinton was the president. This program, along with the two others I have mentioned, have had their widest expansion under Obama. The Republicans are merely taking up where the White House has left off. Like Frankenstein, the Golem and all the other uncontrollable forces from legends around the world, E-Verify, Section 287(g) and "Secure Communities" now have an independent life of their own as instruments of anti-immigrant fear and oppression.
As an aside, ID's June 15 editorial suggests that the DREAM Act might be added to H.R. 2164 as a "sweetener" to help push it hrough Congress. Let us hope so. But based on their recent immigration history, the Republicans do not have much of a record of doing sweeteners.
Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years