By Rep. Elton Gallegly and Rep. Lamar Smith
California is faced with a monstrous deficit and the real possibility of insolvency. Once the land of new beginnings and the embodiment of the American dream, the Golden State is now expected to have a $25 billion budget shortfall by June 2012. And the state has the second highest unemployment rate in the United States.
If the California dream of opportunity is to be realized again, lawmakers need to take swift action and address a multitude of issues. While many factors have led to California's present condition, one glaring element missing from the debate is the economic impact of illegal immigration.
According to a study conducted by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), illegal immigration costs California nearly $22 billion each year. This amounts to $2,724 per California household to pay for the health care, education, welfare and incarceration of illegal immigrants.
The unemployment crisis is also exacerbated by illegal immigration. There are roughly 1.9 million illegal workers in California, which accounts for 10 percent of the state's entire work force. This means nearly 3 million unemployed Californians have to compete with almost 2 million illegal immigrants for scarce jobs.
Because illegal immigration contributes to California's deficit and high unemployment rate, lawmakers need to address the underlying issue: the jobs magnet. As long as the jobs magnet exists, millions of illegal immigrants will come to the United States, take jobs from lawful workers and drain taxpayer-funded resources.
The House Judiciary Committee stands ready to put an end to the jobs magnet. One of our first steps has been to examine the Obama administration's record on worksite enforcement. Overall, worksite enforcement under the Obama administration is down more than 70 percent. That means it is easy for illegal immigrants to keep jobs that rightly belong to U.S. citizens.
The administration's lack of enforcement is essentially a worksite endorsement of illegal immigrants taking jobs from legal workers. Rather than arresting illegal workers, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel let them walk down the street to the next employer.
And instead of pursuing criminal charges against businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants, ICE simply slaps them with a fine. Businesses view these penalties as a cost of doing business. They seldom change their hiring practices.
Without worksite enforcement, we can't stop employers from hiring illegal workers. And if we don't stop employers from hiring illegal workers, we can't free up jobs for American workers.
Critics of worksite enforcement claim that illegal immigrants hold jobs that Americans won't do. But even in the agriculture industry, where pro-amnesty supporters insist we need illegal workers, 50 percent of the agriculture jobs are held by U.S. citizens and legal immigrants.
Statements that Americans are not willing to do these jobs not only are false but also demean the hardworking Americans who do the work.
The House Judiciary Committee also plans to hold a hearing to build on the successes of the E-Verify program. This effective tool preserves jobs for U.S. citizens and legal immigrants by helping employers determine who is a legal worker.
Under E-Verify, the Social Security numbers and alien identification numbers of new hires are checked against Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security records in order to weed out fraudulent numbers and help ensure that new hires are genuinely eligible to work. The program quickly confirms 99.5 percent of work-eligible employees.
Nearly 250,000 employers use E-Verify, and an average of 1,300 new businesses sign up each week.
Participating employers are happy with E-Verify. Several outside evaluations have found that the vast majority of employers participating in E-Verify believe it to be an effective and reliable tool for checking the legal status of their employees.
While a recent Government Accountability Office report acknowledged some areas for refinement, such as guarding against identify theft, the report reaffirmed what we already know about E-Verify: It is a very successful program.
To discourage illegal immigration, the administration needs to increase worksite enforcement activities. We should also expand E-Verify and look into the possibility of making it mandatory.
For far too long, states and localities have had to bear the burden of illegal immigration and Americans and legal workers have been forced to compete with illegal immigrants for scarce jobs.
Considering the fact that illegal immigration costs the state of California almost the same amount as its budget shortfall, it is critical we turn off the jobs magnet. Until we do, illegal immigration will continue to drain states' budgets and force more Americans onto the unemployment rolls.
The time is now to act. Californians cannot wait any longer.