WASHINGTON – A House committee Wednesday approved a bill to require that every business in the country use the E-Verify system to determine if prospective hires are authorized workers or undocumented immigrants.
The House Judiciary Committee vote followed two days of debate in two different weeks and was split along party lines, with 13 Democrats opposing and all 22 Republicans voting for the “Legal Workforce Act.” A vote by the full House had not been scheduled as of Wednesday evening.
The bill would mandate that businesses nationwide do what is already required of employers in Arizona: Use the employer-verification program to root out undocumented immigrants from the workforce.
Currently, Arizona and 16 other states use the federal E-Verify database to varying degrees.
Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Phoenix, said the country needs to eliminate the incentives “that are enticing people to cross (the border) illegally.” One of them is employers who are willing and wanting to hire illegal workers.
“Having it (E-Verify) applied across the states, it’s the right way to go,” said Quayle, a member of the committee.
But opponents, both conservative and liberal, said they worry that E-Verify could affect legal workers and put Americans out of work, by something as simple as the misspelling of a name in the database.
Philip Wolgin, an immigration policy analyst for the Washington-based Center for American Progress, said the center fears that American citizens might mistakenly be identified as unauthorized workers. He also added that the bill sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, does not deal with the estimated millions of undocumented immigrants living in this country.
“E-Verify needs to be accompanied with a comprehensive immigration reform package,” he said.
That argument was echoed by Democrats on the committee, who said the only solution to illegal immigration is through a comprehensive immigration reform bill dealing with it all at once.
“I don’t think you can piecemeal comprehensive immigration reform,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.
But Quayle also said that immigration legislation might need to be “piecemealed” in order to get done.
The bill also upset some tea-party activists, who want Republicans to abandon the effort to take E-Verify to a national level. Some lawmakers believe that states should be free to enact their own E-Verify laws, to ease concerns over the federal government imposing on states’ jurisdictions.
Arizona’s 2008 E-Verify law was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, which said that states have the right to revoke businesses licenses if they are found hiring undocumented workers.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, said states should have that right, but he defended a federal bill in the meantime.
“If there is a pre-emption that would allow the states to have their own latitude … (Arizona’s) E-Verify would remain as it is and that’s something I would support,” said Franks, a committee member.
Another committee member, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said states should step up and help the federal government in enforcing immigration laws.
“I think we need a lot of help and support from the states,” King said.
Uriel J. Garcia is a reporter for Cronkite News Service