George Soros' Open Society Foundation is being taken to task for funding an app which allows immigrants -- both documented and illegal -- to notify family members if they are in the process of being arrested for immigration-related transgressions, among others.
Given that ICE is capable of holding migrants for an indefinite period of time pending proof of status, swift notification of family members appears a reasonable response to perceived uncertainties on the ground. This is the sort of app an American might want to have, for example, when visiting a foreign country like Russia or Nigeria.
But again, the story is suggestive of the difficulty of countering a black market -- market participants respond to enforcement efforts with a kind of arms race, almost inevitably escalating violence over time. This was the experience of Prohibition, for example, and is again visible in rising violence rates in Mexico.
Apps in a Market-based System
Apps can also be used to advance the interests of a well-ordered and transparent market which meets conservative goals. In the case of market-based visas, below are a few apps we might expect (for the sake of illustration, priced at $16.99 per year and generating $100 million in annual revenues from the six million undocumented working Hispanics in the US).
age theft appears endemic in the migrant community. A Wage Protection app would summon legal help for those migrants not paid agreed sums. Employers would soon come to appreciate that migrants are capable of holding their own in these matters, and wage theft should decline significantly.
The value of the app is not in its enforcement, but in its deterrence. If a sweatshop manager believes that wage infractions will prompt a visit from two Harvard-trained lawyers the next day, he will be less likely to commit them.
Note also that in the clothing fabrication industry, undocumented immigrants are only about 1/3 of the workforce, with the remainder comprising legal immigrants and unskilled Americans. The app would also be available to these groups, thereby insuring proper payments for unskilled industry workers more widely. It would help sustain wage levels more broadly, and not just for migrants.
Such an approach pairs well with bank accounts. Wage protection works best when payments are electronic and easy to document. Thus, those seeking wage protection will also have an incentive to be paid electronically above the table--thereby fostering system transparency and curtailing black market activities.
Other apps could include sexual harassment protection and visa insurance. Sexual harassment and assault appears to be endemic among undocumented migrant women, which they appear reluctant to report both for societal and immigration enforcement reasons. Again, the visit of two Harvard-trained lawyers to a California grower would quickly put an end to this kind of abuse of power, typically by field supervisors.
Wage and sexual harassment protection apps could materially reduce the rates of crime associated with migrant labor. And note that the migrants themselves -- not the US government -- will take the lead in reducing victimization rates.
Visa insurance could be an extension of the Soros app above, and would summon legal help in the case of detention by ICE.
A market-based system achieves compliance by offering a suite of services that employers, migrants and other stakeholders like hospitals, schools and police find useful. The key to compliance is speed, certainty, affordability, and convenience. Employers in this world would use E-Verify not because of fear of enforcement, but because the system as a whole brings benefits; companies can access qualified, legal labor in unlimited quantities at a known price whenever they want. That is a valuable service and a reason to comply with system requirements. Both migrants and employers would want to belong to the system, because it makes their lives easier. This in turn would create the most transparent and legal labor market in the Americas.
Right now, the Soros app is serving a need in the black market. If we legalize and tax this market, then we can create apps which drive compliance and create order, safety, efficiency, fairness and prosperity for all those involved.