House GOP’S E-ver­ify bill stirs broader im­mi­gra­tion de­bate

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

House Repub­li­cans on Sept. 21 jump-started the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate, push­ing through the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee a key im­mi­gra­tion-en­force­ment mea­sure to re­quire busi­nesses to check new em­ploy­ees’ work sta­tus against a govern­ment data­base, but the fight high­lighted deep di­vides that make it un­likely any bill clears Congress in the near fu­ture.

In a sharp turn­around from their usual stances, Democrats fight­ing to de­feat the bill ac­cused Repub­li­cans of of­fer­ing “amnesty” to at least some il­le­gal-alien agri­cul­ture work­ers who would be ex­empt from checks for three years. Mean­while, Repub­li­cans, who usu­ally ar­gue on be­half of states’ rights, de­fended their bill, which would over­ride ex­ist­ing state laws on elec­tronic back­ground checks.

The bill was ap­proved by the com­mit­tee on a party-line 22-13 vote.

It would re­quire all busi­nesses to use E-Ver­ify, a govern­ment-run pro­gram that uses So­cial Se­cu­rity numbers to check if job ap­pli­cants are au­tho­rized to work in the U.S. E-Ver­ify is vol- un­tary un­der fed­eral law, but the bill would man­date its use.

Back­ers said it is a jobs bill, which could push il­le­gal aliens out of the work­force and leave those open­ings for un­em­ployed Amer­i­cans and author ized im­mi­grants.

“The Le­gal Work­force Act could open up mil­lions of jobs for un­em­ployed Amer­i­cans by re­quir­ing em­ploy­ers to use E-Ver­ify,” said com­mit­tee Chair­man La­mar Smith, Texas Repub­li­can, who wrote the leg­is­la­tion. “It makes no sense to rely on the pa­per-based, er­ror-prone I-9 sys­tem, when a suc­cess­ful, Web­based pro­gram is avail­able.”

Demo­cratic op­po­nents said they feared busi­nesses would use the tool to dis­crim­i­nate against all His­panic work­ers, and pointed to in­stances where the sys­tem er­ro­neously has said Amer­i­can cit­i­zens weren’t au­tho­rized to work.

Still, they said there is a place for elec­tronic ver­i­fi­ca­tion, but only af­ter the cur­rent pop­u­la­tion of il­le­gal aliens has been granted le­gal sta­tus.

“The real dys­func­tion is try­ing to do E-Ver­ify when there are 10-, 12-, 14 mil­lion peo­ple in this coun­try who don’t have work au­tho­riza­tion,” said Rep. Howard L. Ber­man, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, who led op­po­si­tion to the bill. “You con­demn E-Ver­ify to fail­ure when you try to do it in that con­text.”

Ma­jor im­mi­gra­tion leg­is­la­tion has stalled for years in Congress. The only is­sue that has moved has been bor­der se­cu­rity, where there is near una­nim­ity for adding more agents and tech­nol­ogy.

But when it comes to in­te­rior en­force­ment, so­lu­tions to the il­le­gal pop­u­la­tion al­ready in the coun­try, and fu­ture im­mi­gra­tion, there is no con­sen­sus.

Democrats say all of those is­sues must be tack­led at the same time, while Repub­li­cans ar­gue that se­cu­rity should come first.

The E-Ver­ify bill is part of the GOP’s push.

Busi­nesses cur­rently use a pa­per-based sys­tem for ver­i­fy­ing work­ers’ el­i­gi­bil­ity. Em­ploy­ers are re­quired to ask for a doc­u­ment, such as a So­cial Se­cu­rity card. But ram­pant iden­tity theft and the ease of pro­duc­ing fraud- ulent doc­u­ments have made that sys­tem a poor gate­way.

More than a dozen states have man­dated that some or all of their em­ploy­ers use E-Ver­ify.

Mr. Smith’s bill would in­val­i­date those laws, which prompted Democrats to ac­cuse Repub­li­cans of over­rid­ing states’ rights.

“Un­til we step up and do the job, I don’t think we should be pre-empt­ing any­body try­ing to deal with this is­sue,” Mr. Ber­man said.

Repub­li­cans, who have ar­gued states such as Ari­zona should be al­lowed to en­force fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion laws, said in this case a uni­form stan­dard would be ben­e­fi­cial for busi­nesses.

But in an over­ture to agri­cul­ture busi­nesses, who rely heav­ily on il­le­gal-alien la­bor, the bill Mr. Smith wrote would have al­lowed them to ex­empt re­turn­ing sea­sonal work­ers from be­ing checked.

Democrats and some Repub­li­cans said that amounted to an “amnesty” for il­le­gals who al­ready hold farm jobs and who could just keep re­turn­ing year af­ter year to those same jobs.

The two sides com­bined to strike that pro­vi­sion from the bill.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rep. La­mar Smith, Texas Repub­li­can and House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee chair­man, said his leg­is­la­tion, the Le­gal Work­force Act, “could open up mil­lions of jobs for un­em­ployed Amer­i­cans by re­quir­ing em­ploy­ers to use E-Ver­ify.”

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