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Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, has introduced a bill immigration-enforcement patriots have been demanding for over a decade, the Legal Workforce Act. Why are some people calling it a bad bargain, or even worse, a sellout?
Smith’s bill, H.R. 2164, mandates the use of the federal E-Verify program by all employers across the nation. The bill is not perfect, but on balance, it’s a giant step forward and deserves our support.
Not only is a federal E-Verify mandate a giant leap forward in itself, but the Smith bill greatly improves the E-verify program by requiring cooperation among all federal agencies to eliminate a gaping loophole. The present E-Verify program detects only fake Social Security numbers, not valid numbers being used by multiple persons. The existing law actually encourages identity theft. H.R. 2164 fixes that problem.
The Legal Workforce Act contains many features that make it a good bill.
- It repeals the existing paper-based I-9 system and replaces it with an electronic work eligibility check. The current system is plagued by widespread document fraud.
- Implementation will be phased in gradually, starting with the largest companies and small-business employers allowed three years.
- Allows an exemption for seasonal workers in agriculture who return to the same job each year.
- Pre-empts state laws mandating E-Verify but allows states to make business licenses conditional on good-faith participation in E-verify.
- It does NOT pre-empt state laws in other areas of immigration law enforcement.
The agriculture exemption is not a provision I like, but since less than 5 percent of illegal aliens are employed in agriculture, it is an acceptable compromise.
The bill will come to a vote in July under an open rule that allows amendments. Certainly there are amendments that could improve the bill. However, the bill as it stands is a good bill and deserves support.
It is alleged by some that the bill must be bad because it has been endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a long-time opponent of E-Verify. In my opinion, that’s not a good argument. With the growth of state E-Verify laws – and now the U.S. Supreme Court’s validation of those state laws – the business community sees the advantage of having a uniform national standard for employment eligibility instead of a patchwork of different laws. Employers in New Jersey and California ought to be subject to the same standard regarding immigration enforcement as employers in Arizona, Georgia and Montana. Achieving business support for mandatory E-Verify is real progress.
A more serious criticism is that the bill pre-empts state legislation on immigration at the moment we see growing success in many states. This is a valid concern, and if the bill did pre-empt all state legislation affecting immigration enforcement, I would oppose it. But it does not do that.
The bill strengthens the federal bar to employment of illegal aliens, but it does not try to affect any other aspect of immigration enforcement. For example, it does not in any way undermine laws in Colorado, Oklahoma and elsewhere that bar illegal aliens’ access to public benefits. I do not see any basis for the speculation that the Smith bill might undermine Arizona’s SB1070 in the eyes of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Let’s remember that states like Arizona, Georgia, Alabama and Oklahoma acted to control the effects of illegal immigration because they got tired of waiting for the federal government to enforce the law. What sense is there in opposing a bill that finally adds teeth to the enforcement of the federal ban on illegal workers?
Full national use of the E-Verify program can substantially weaken the “jobs magnet” that attracts illegal aliens to America. That will have a major impact on border security. The National Border Patrol Council has said many times that turning off the jobs magnet – more than any other single act – will reduce the flow of border jumpers significantly. If we can cut the flow of job seekers in half, that makes the Border Patrol’s job of identifying and stopping terrorists and drug smugglers far easier.
I went to Arizona in 2004 and campaigned for Proposition 200, the first of Arizona’s successful legislative initiatives. I have strongly supported all such state efforts. But let’s be honest, and let’s be realistic: Victories at the state level have been important precisely because there were no victories to be had in Congress. The battle over federal standards and federal enforcement has been a stalemate, but the goal of federal enforcement has always been the top priority.
Without federal standards and a federal mandate for E-Verify, how many years will patriots have to wait to see successful E-Verify legislation in California? Or New York, Illinois, or Oregon? Does Texas have mandatory E-Verify for all employers? No.
After 14 years in existence, the federal E-Verify program continues to grow and has over 250,000 employers participating. But how long will we wait to see the remaining 13,000,000 employers in the program if we proceed state by state?
Every citizen who is serious about curtailing illegal immigration should help Rep. Smith turn off the jobs magnet by supporting the Legal Workforce Act.