Could a mandatory E-Verify bill make it past Obama?
Most immigration legislation is expected to stall next legislative session, as a heavily pro-enforcement House attempts to get bills past a president and Senate leadership that prefer a more comprehensive approach. Some of the measures proposed by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who will most likely head the subcommittee on immigration, seem almost certain to fail: An anti-birthright citizenship bill, for example, would almost certainly be voted down in the Senate if it passes the House due to strong opposition from Democrats.
Will it be possible for House Republicans to get any immigration bills signed into law? No one is quite sure, but over the next few days I’ll be looking at some of the bills that pro-enforcement and pro-immigration reform groups think stand a chance. First on the list: an expansion of E-Verify, a controversial program that allows employers to use their workers’ Social Security numbers to verify that they can legally work in the United States.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who is expected to lead the Judiciary Committee, co-sponsored a bill in the current session to make use of E-Verify mandatory for all employers. The program is already mandatory for federal agencies and their contractors, but Republicans have said E-Verify should be expanded nationwide to better prevent undocumented workers from finding work.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the pro-enforcement Center for Immigration Studies, told TWI that an expansion of the employment verification program could be passed in an effort by Democrats to show their commitment to immigration enforcement.
“I could see the administration deciding they need to back [mandatory E-Verify] to show their bona fides on enforcement so they can make a more conceivable case for amnesty in the future,” Krikorian said, referring to Obama’s support for paths to legal status for some of the illegal immigrants already in the country. “It undercuts the criticisms of the president as opposing enforcement and strengthens his hand for a possible second term.”
Of course, the Obama administration has already stepped up its immigration enforcement, sending more troops to the border and increasing deportation levels. Democrats may be unwilling to go further due to reported problems with E-Verify, said Grisella Martinez, director of policy and legislative affairs at the pro-reform National Immigration Forum.
Critics of the program say it contains flukes that allow some undocumented immigrants to escape detection and deny some legal workers employment. The Social Security Administration reportedly has an error rate of more than 4 percent in the databases E-Verify uses to check legal status. Critics in the business community say E-Verify puts unfair burdens on human resource departments that will have to be trained to use the program.
The projected high cost of implementing E-Verify nationwide could also deter Senate Democrats and Obama from supporting a bill. The Congressional Budget Office reported in 2008 that mandating E-Verify use could decrease federal revenues by about $17.3 billion between 2009 and 2018. Many experts say employers would still have a demand for labor from illegal immigrants, who in some sectors are likely to accept work that legal Americans often do not. E-Verify would therefore starve the government of tax dollars through a huge increase in the number of undocumented workers being paid untaxed wages under the table.
“I don’t think mandating E-Verify without a legalization program is possible,” Martinez said. “If it were to occur, we’d be looking at a real economic tailspin. Numerous government reports have all pointed to the fact that to mandate a program like E-Verify without legalizing the workers who are already in our economy would be absolutely catastrophic.”