- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2008

OP-ED:

When the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called on Congress to pass the financial rescue bill, they asked us to “put the American people first.” I agree with that sentiment. However, I can’t help but point out the irony of the Chamber’s statement given its own refusal to put the needs of the American people over those of illegal immigrants.

Most notable is the chamber’s opposition to E-Verify, the federal government’s system that allows businesses to ensure that the employees they hire are legal. Not only did the Chamber criticize a recent presidential executive order requiring companies who contract with the U.S. government to use E-Verify, it also has opposed efforts by states such as Arizona to put in place employer sanctions and other immigration control measures. In fact, the Chamber of Commerce went so far as to sue, unsuccessfully, to overturn Arizona’s employer sanctions law.

American workers deserve better.

It is a privilege to do business with the federal government and it has a right to require that these jobs actually go to American workers. We have “buy American” laws, why not “employ American” laws, especially when that is already the legal requirement. Moreover, E-Verify has a strong, proven track record. Persons eligible to work are immediately confirmed 99.4 percent of the time, as are 99.9 percent of native-born workers. That’s a success rate any company in America would be happy to have. But opposition to E-Verify isn’t the only immigration policy position held by the Chamber of Commerce that harms American workers and families. In fact, the country’s most active pro-business lobby chose to support immigration reform that included mass amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants. Unfortunately, by supporting amnesty, the chamber undercuts its own stated mission of helping businesses and American workers.

Promoting the use of cheap labor provided by illegal immigrants may help a few businesses for a short time, but an immigration policy that includes amnesty hurts American workers and American families in the long run. According to a study by the Heritage Foundation, each low-skilled immigrant household received $30,160 in government benefits - including education, medical care, transportation and sanitation services - but paid only $10,573 in taxes. That means the average low-skilled immigrant household costs American taxpayers almost $20,000 per year. Also, the Center for Immigration Studies estimates that low-skilled American workers lose an average of $1,800 a year because of competition from low-skilled immigrants for their jobs. Driving down the wages of American workers is not a route to “economic opportunity” the chamber claims is its goal.

In fact, amnesty for illegal immigrants would sabotage nearly every priority of the Chamber of Commerce. Take education. According to its Web site, the Chamber endorses improvements to K-12 education. But giving amnesty to illegal immigrants would lead to more overcrowded classrooms, resulting in a poorer education for the children of U.S. citizens and legal immigrants alike.

The chamber has also said it supports increased access to higher education for American students. Yet, illegal immigrants take places in colleges and universities that would normally go to U.S. citizens and legal immigrants.

Even the business-friendly priorities of the Chamber of Commerce are threatened by its immigration stance. For instance, ending lawsuit abuse by trial lawyers, reducing taxes, decreasing government regulation, setting reasonable climate and environmental regulations, and providing business tax credits are all chamber priorities that likely would be opposed by illegal immigrants who receive amnesty and become voters.

Amnesty for illegal immigrants will only encourage more illegal immigration, which in turn will lead to lower wages for American workers, higher taxes and a political climate that undermines the chamber’s stated interests.

Given the current state of the economy, Congress must support policies that help the American worker and their employers who play by the rules. When it comes to illegal immigration, I recommend the chamber take its own advice and put the American people first.

Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas is the senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and former chair of the House Subcommittee on Immigration.