I realize we’re in the midst of numerous discussions involving construction of the border wall and hiring new immigration law enforcement officers, but there remains a far more effective tool in combating illegal immigration available to us. I wanted to draw your attention to a story in the Los Angeles times this week which deals with an immigration raid taking place a decade ago at a French restaurant in that city. This is a remarkable story to see cropping up in a large, generally liberal newspaper because it offers the refreshing perspective of a business owner who was once busted for employing illegals but now wants enforcement to be more strict.
Michael Malecot is the owner of The French Gourmet, an upscale restaurant in Pacific Beach. In 2008 he was the subject of an ICE raid which netted several aliens working illegally at his eatery. Unlike far too many of these raids, it wasn’t just the busboys and dishwashers who wound up getting in trouble with the law. Malecot himself was charged in the case and wound up being convicted and paying a rather stiff fine which he claims nearly put him out of business. Today the owner is a regular user of the E-Verify system and claims that he is in 100% compliance with the law in all of his hiring practices. Unfortunately, he goes on to say that this puts him at a disadvantage because the government does not enforce this law with an even hand and many of his competitors are still getting away with hiring cheap, illegal labor and not paying any price for it.
“It was a difficult time,” Malécot, 65, recalled in an interview in his cozy 45-seat dining room last week. He feared at one point he would lose his business. “I am very lucky to love what I do.”
A misdemeanor conviction and $396,000 in court-ordered payments later, Malécot says he is now 100% compliant when it comes to hiring legal workers through use of E-Verify, the government web-based program that green-lights the eligibility of employees.
But because the program is voluntary, many restaurants don’t use it and — whether knowingly or unknowingly — employ unauthorized immigrants. Malécot said that puts him and other employers following the law at a disadvantage when their competitors have a larger workforce to pull from and the potential to pay lower wages.
One item which stands out in the story is the result of the court case against Malecot. Yes, he wound up paying more than a quarter million dollars in fines, fees and court costs, but he was convicted of a misdemeanor. How does that work? There are federal laws against aiding and abetting people who are in the country illegally so this must’ve been some sort of a plea deal. The raid worked out well in the case of this one restaurant and the stiff fines might have sent something of a message to other employers in the area, but as Malecot himself notes, the memo clearly didn’t get to everyone.
I’ve been up on this particular soapbox in the past and the underlying point of the story remains just as true now as it has ever been. I firmly believe that the quickest and most efficacious method of cutting down on illegal immigration is to remove the main incentive for people to cross the border in violation of the law and choose to remain here. That means jobs. If the supply of employment and income essentially disappears you will see illegal immigration fall off virtually overnight to a degree which no amount of strict law enforcement activity will ever accomplish. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be building a wall, hiring more ICE officers, border patrol and all the rest. We absolutely should. But their jobs will become much easier with a smaller number of targets to go after, many of whom will likely wind up being gang members and those working outside the normal capitalist system.
E-Verify is out there and ready for use. Every owner of a business either knows about it or darn well should know about. The problem is we are still too reticent in prosecuting the people who would actually matter. Handing down a big fine to one restaurant owner is nice but it’s simply not enough. As I have said before, the first time that you see the millionaire owner of a huge restaurant chain or the CEO of a national retailer standing in an orange jumpsuit and leg irons in front of a judge who is handing down a 10 year sentence, jobs for illegal immigrants will evaporate in the blink of an eye. It may not be politically popular and could turn off some potential donors, but it’s a solution which is available and sitting out there on the table right now.