By Stan Marek
The lowest unemployment rate in decades is great news, and yet many employers are facing the biggest labor crisis they have faced in years. Full employment is great if everyone working is playing by the same rules. In Texas, more than in any other state, the large number of undocumented workers tend to change the dynamics.
An estimated 2 million undocumented immigrants are working in Texas. Many have false papers, but they are on someone’s payroll and pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. Others, however, are working in the shadow economy. They don’t appear on anyone’s payroll and thus pay no taxes. They work long hours without earning overtime pay. Undocumented immigrants provide vital services that benefit us all. Just look around at the construction sites, restaurants and many other places in your city and you’ll see them working.
Recently the Social Security Administration sent out “no match” letters to 577,000 employers who had 10 or more employees whose names and Social Security numbers on their W-2 forms did not match Social Security records. Another 500,000 or more notices could be sent soon.
Employers who receive no match letters have a certain amount of time to notify the employee to contact Social Security and resolve the problem. For some employees, the no match issue is a matter of correcting an error or clarifying their name. But for undocumented employees there is no fix because the number isn’t theirs. Maybe they bought a fake Social Security card at a flea market or someone forged one for them. But they are working illegally.
Many employers assume the worst and terminate their no-match employees rather than risk a visit from Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Regardless, most employers are calling their attorneys and asking what to do. A fired employee who was on someone’s payroll will now likely find work in the underground economy. They will pay no payroll taxes nor will they be protected by wage and hour laws.
There is a better solution.
I’m one of a growing number of Houston-area business leaders who support a concept called “ID and Tax.” Here’s how it would work. Once an employer receives a Social Security no-match letter and finds that an employee is not authorized to work in the United States, rather than lose that employee to the shadow economy, they and the employee work with the Department of Homeland Security to secure a work permit. If the worker has been in the U.S. for at least five years and can pass a criminal background check, the employee is issued a tamper-proof ID with fingerprints and a five-year work permit. The employer pays for both the background check and ID. The worker would not be eligible to vote or collect welfare, but he or she could now hold a job legally without fear of deportation. And they’d be able to get a driver’s license.
This process would bring millions of undocumented immigrants out of the shadows without costing the federal government a cent. It would also give employers who play by the rules an opportunity to hire skilled workers who have been in our community for many years. It’s a win-win for the American people, not just for employers.
Law enforcement supports ID and Tax because it gives IDs to folks who can now get a driver’s license, buy insurance and report a crime without fear of deportation.
Hospitals support the idea because employees with work permits would have workers’ compensation if they are injured. They would no longer be dependent on emergency rooms, where treatment costs are much higher.
Educators support the proposal because parents can join their kids in school activities and attend soccer games and other sporting events without worrying that ICE agents will show up to deport them or split up their families.
The federal government should support ID and Tax because employers would help the efforts for national security by identifying a large number of undocumented immigrants. And it would free up valuable resources that could help with the border crisis.
Sure, some will call ID and Tax “amnesty.” But we already have amnesty. By refusing to address a realistic system for dealing with the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country, our political leaders have allowed a de facto amnesty to fester — one that traps workers in a a shadow world of exploitation and desperation. Politicians know that deporting all those workers would trigger a massive recession, so they do nothing. ID and Tax is a better solution that will benefit the undocumented, businesses and the economy.
Please contact your elected officials. Send them an email or write a letter. Just say, “Please pass ID and Tax.”
Marek is CEO of the Marek Construction Companies and a board member of the Center for Houston’s Future.
This article was first published in the Houston Chronicle.