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Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Election Issues May Stall E-Verify Bill in GOP House

CQ (by David Harrison): House leaders are coming under pressure this week over stalled immigration legislation.

Numbers USA, a group that backs stricter immigration controls, has launched a campaign to pressure the leadership to bring to the floor a Republican bill requiring all employers to use an online system known as E-Verify to check the legal status of new employees. The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill (HR 2885) in September.

The campaign, which includes radio and television ads, is a sign of growing discontent among advocates of stronger immigration enforcement with House Speaker John A. Boehner and other GOP leaders. The pressure comes at a particularly delicate time for the Ohio Republican, who has had trouble recently maintaining control of his caucus after rank-and-file members objected to a payroll tax cut extension and the House’s reauthorization (HR 7) of surface transportation programs.

Advocates of stronger immigration enforcement say they are surprised and dismayed by the leadership’s hesitation about a bill that is likely to pass with broad Republican support and that would prove popular with many GOP voters.

“I initially thought the Senate would be a problem,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors stronger enforcement. “It didn’t occur to me that the House leadership would be sitting on this.”

Mandatory verification of legal status for workers has long been a priority for Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who introduced the bill and shepherded it through his committee last fall. Smith has described it as a “jobs bill” that would deny jobs to undocumented immigrants and make them available to Americans or legal immigrants.

The bill would require employers to verify the status of new employees. Roughly 8 million illegal immigrants are currently in the workforce, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

But Smith’s measure is stuck. The Ways and Means and the Education and the Workforce committees have jurisdiction over parts of the bill and have yet to move on them. House leaders also have been reluctant to focus on illegal immigration this year, even though three of the four remaining Republican presidential candidates have endorsed taking a tough stance on the issue.

Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich all support mandatory E-Verify, and Kris Kobach, Romney’s adviser on immigration issues, told Univision last week that an E-Verify push would be “one of the first things you’ll see” in a Romney presidency.

Roy Beck, executive director of Numbers USA, accused Boehner of punting on the bill in an election year.

“We got to the point that we could see there is no route except public exposure,” said Beck, who expects to spend “hundreds of thousands of dollars” on the campaign.

Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, said the Speaker supports an E-Verify requirement and that “the issue is currently working its way through the committee process.” Laena Fallon, a spokeswoman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said no decisions have been made to bring the bill to the floor.

Smith declined to comment on the Numbers USA campaign.

Immigration advocates have said an E-Verify mandate would force undocumented workers into the underground economy where they could be exploited by unscrupulous employers. They also argue the system, which would impose new federal regulations on businesses, is not foolproof.


Political Considerations

“It’s incredible that a party that is making deregulation one of their core platforms would consider bringing to the floor this bill that is a massive regulation,” said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America’s Voice, which advocates for granting legal status to law-abiding undocumented immigrants.

So far, at least 17 states have enacted their own mandatory employment verification laws for some or all employers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A Supreme Court ruling last May found that states were within their rights to require that employers check the legal status of their workers. At the federal level, E-Verify is required for federal contractors.

E-Verify backers have an ally in Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., who chairs the Immigration Policy and Enforcement Subcommittee on the Judiciary panel, and who called the legislation “the most important jobs bill before this Congress.”

“I’ve been very vocal in urging leadership to bring this bill to the floor,” said Gallegly, who is retiring at the end of this term.

Beck sees political considerations behind the leadership’s reticence, saying Boehner could be waiting to see if the GOP takes over the Senate or puts a Republican in the White House. Also, congressional Republicans may be wary of further alienating Latino voters, he said.

Another reason could be the firm opposition from the agricultural industry, where 70 percent of workers are thought to be illegal immigrants. The Western Growers Association, an agricultural trade association based in California, has testified against the bill, saying it would introduce a new bureaucratic mandate for small-size farmers and could deprive them of much-needed labor. Growers in states that have enacted a mandatory verification law at the state level, such as Georgia, have said they could not find enough legal workers willing to work in the fields.

Smith’s bill would give the agricultural industry three years to comply with the requirement but farm groups are still opposed. To resolve the impasse, Smith has introduced a separate bill (HR 2847) that would overhaul the agricultural guest worker visa program by imposing fewer regulations on employers. Smith’s bill would also cap the program at 500,000 visas. The current program is uncapped, although many employers don’t use it, saying it is too onerous.

The question of how an E-Verify mandate would affect agricultural workers has split the GOP. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., who sits on the Judiciary Committee, opposes Smith’s farm worker bill and has proposed his own alternative (HR 2895) to simplify the agricultural guest worker program. Neither of the bills has been marked up and lawmakers expressed apprehension at a February hearing that they would be able to reach agreement any time soon.

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