Michael Tanner

The Tea Party has performed many an invaluable service in American politics: First, by raising the alarm about the dangers of our growing national debt and out-of-control spending, and later by challenging the crony capitalists and big-government conservatives who have too long controlled the Republican Party.

But recently, many Tea Partyers have added opposition to immigration reform to their agenda. In doing so, they are not only wrong on the merits of the issue, but contradict many of their own fundamental principles.

Those principles include a devotion to limited government and individual liberty, concern about the national debt and a desire for economic growth, and a healthy skepticism about the ability of government to remake society. But the type of immigration crackdown envisioned by many Tea Party activists would run almost directly counter to those precepts.

For example, Tea Partyers were among those who were first to raise the alarm about the National Security Agency’s violations of Americans’ privacy. Yet, in opposing immigration, Tea Partyers seem oblivious to the dangers of a massive government database such as E-Verify, designed to prevent hiring of illegal immigrants.

E-Verify might seem harmless now, but missions always creep and bureaucracies expand. E-Verify will be an attractive way to enforce hundreds of other employment laws and regulations. In the age of big data, the government can easily E-Verify age, union membership, education, employment history, and whether you’ve paid income taxes and signed up for health insurance. And while the government screens employee applications, it can also check on employers’ compliance with all sorts of regulations by looking at the job applications they submit for verification.

Moreover, do they really expect that the government responsible for HealthCare.gov will suddenly develop the competence to manage such a massive database? The last major study of E-Verify, by Weststat in 2013, found an error rate of roughly 0.3 percent. While that might sound small, if applied to the entire national workforce of 150 million people, it would yield some 450,000 errors. That would mean nearly half a million American citizens wrongly denied employment.

Beyond E-Verify, do Tea Partyers really want to open the door to a national ID system? Or become the type of country where police stop you on the street to “see your papers?”


Michael Tanner

Michael D. Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, heading research into a variety of domestic policies with particular emphasis on health care reform, welfare policy, and Social Security. His most recent white paper, "Bad Medicine: A Guide to the Real Costs and Consequences of the New Health Care Law," provides a detailed examination of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and what it means to taxpayers, workers, physicians, and patients.