Be Nicer, Adam

E-Verify Will Require Some Exemptions

05.09.13 5:00 PM ET

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I think Adam Serwer is being uncharitable in his attack here on Sen. Mike Lee's amendment to exempt domestic service from the E-Verify requirements:

It's apparently really hard to find good (cheap) help these days, so Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has a modest proposal: Let's allow unauthorized immigrants to work—but only if they're doing low-paid domestic service jobs. Lee's amendment would exempt "services performed by cooks, waiters, butlers, housekeepers, governessess, maids, valets, baby sitters, janitors, laundresses, furnacemen, care-takers, handymen, gardeners, footmen, grooms, and chauffeurs of automobiles for family use" from "prohibitions on unlawful employment of unauthorized aliens." Next: An amendment that would allow employers to feed said domestic workers stale cake.

Brian Phillips, a spokesman for Sen. Lee, told me that Serwer's report is "totally false" and that the change would "not allow anyone to employ illegal labor for any reason".

The amendment's purpose? "To exclude certain employment of domestic service from the prohibitions on unlawful employment of unauthorized aliens."

Now, this isn't DC granting license for people to go out and hire unauthorized workers. That, like now, is not permitted.

What it means is that you won't be required to vet the neighbor kid through E-Verify when he offers to scoop the snow off your driveway. E-Verify is intended to help businesses screen out unauthorized workers, not prevent your grandmother from paying someone to mow her lawn.

I understand Serwer's basic point, which is that the exemption will likely lead to domestic labor remaining a place for unauthorized immigrants to gain employment. But it's quite unfair to paint the amendment, which is rooted in some fairly good-faith common sense, as the precursor of an "amendment that would allow employers to feed said domestic workers stale cake."

For E-Verify enforcement to have a chance, it must be both rigorous enough to detect fraud and loose enough to avoid imposing severe consequences on some fairly routine and basic economic activities. It's not an easy balance to achieve, but I believe Lee's amendment to be a decent start, and I wish Serwer were more forgiving.

Obviously, this remains a less-than-ideal situation, but I'm not sure how E-Verify can be a sustainable and realistic program without this exemption.