Last month, the House of Representatives voted to pass H.R. 2, the “Secure the Border Act.” 219 Republicans in the House of Representatives voted in favor; 211 Democrats and 2 Republicans voted against. One of its provisions, as noted by the Congressional Budget Office, is that it would “Require all U.S. employers to use E-Verify, the federal web-based system for confirming eligibility to work.” That one provision would hobble one of the best features of the U.S. economy, the relatively free market in labor.

If this bill passes in the Senate and is signed by the President, then when employers want to hire someone not currently working for them, they must make sure that the person is eligible to work. That would mean, presumably, that the worker is a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. When I met with my Congressman, Sam Farr, a few years ago (he’s now retired), he said he opposed such a provision but his opposition was based on how it would hurt Latinos in his and other Congressmen’s districts. I pointed out to him that it would hurt everyone. The employer who wants to hire anyone, Latino or not, would have to check with the federal government first.

You might say that this is no big deal because if you have a green card or are an American citizen, you’ll pass the test. But to that, I have two answers, one short run and one long run.

In the short run, a relevant question is: Does the federal government ever make mistakes? Can we be sure that every green card holder or U.S. citizen will be in the data base? The answer is no. There will be people in those categories who won’t be able to get the job. How many? Admittedly, not many. So it would slow the labor market a little.

The bigger problem is in the long run. Governments often promise to keep a program small and rarely keep their promises. To take one example, when the USA PATRIOT act was passed, the federal government was given tools to go after terrorists. Does it ever use those powers against people who are clearly not terrorists? Yes.

Here’s how my Hoover colleague John Cochrane put it in a 2013 op/ed in the Wall Street Journal:

E-Verify might seem harmless now, but missions always creep and bureaucracies expand. Suppose that someone convicted of viewing child pornography is found teaching. There’s a media hoopla. The government has this pre-employment check system. Surely we should link E-Verify to the criminal records of pedophiles? And why not all criminal records? We don’t want alcoholic airline pilots, disbarred doctors, fraudster bankers and so on sneaking through.

Next, E-Verify will be attractive as a 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.

How about this idea? Let’s allow more legal immigrants. We gain and they gain. And, as a side benefit, we especially need them now that the Social Security Trust Fund will likely be out of money in 2033. Remember that the vast majority of immigrants are young. Letting them in would buy us a few years.