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A Bad Day at the Office for Mr. Smith and His E-Verify Bill

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lamar smithDespite publicly expressing confidence over the legislation’s prospects, leading anti-immigrant lawmaker Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) had a difficult week promoting his mandatory E-Verify bill.  Opponents from a range of industries and ideologies raised their voices, highlighting the facts that mandating E-Verify would cripple the U.S. agriculture industry, burden businesses with new bureaucratic mandates and high costs, and harm American job seekers and workers.  Moreover, they argued, with a failure rate of over 50%, E-Verify doesn’t even work.

After getting some in the business community to endorse his bill, Lamar Smith clearly thought that mandatory E-Verify would enjoy smooth legislative sailing – something he desperately needs if he is to convince Speaker Boehner to put this bill on the House floor.  But now he’s facing splits in conservative circles and strong opposition from Democrats.  So much for smooth sailing.    

Among the key developments:

  • Conservatives Speak Out Against E-Verify:  From the Wall Street Journal editorial page to Tea Partiers, conservatives rallied against Smith and his mandatory E-Verify bill this past week.  As Elise Foley of Huffington Post reported, “Tea Party groups, including Take Back Washington, Tea Party Nation and Liberty Coalition, bought a full-page ad in Politico on Thursday criticizing the mandatory E-Verify bill. They also sent an open letter to members of Congress asking them to oppose the bill to avoid disastrous consequences for American citizens.”

  • Opposition from 2012 Contenders: Despite his otherwise extreme and anti-Latino views on immigration, the GOP’s leading contender for the presidency is opposed to E-Verify.  Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) has said mandatory E-Verify “would not make a hill-of-beans difference” in stopping illegal immigration.  Other Republican contenders have similarly been unable to swallow Smith’s mandatory E-Verify push.  For example, Rep. Ron Paul, a favorite of libertarians and limited government conservatives, has noted, “I don’t like putting the burden on our business people to be the policemen.”  

  • Seeing the True Intentions in Smith’s Guest Worker Bill – Cover for E-Verify Push: Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) rightfully panned another Smith-backed bill, a hurriedly developed proposal that would establish a new guest worker program for the agriculture industry.  She called it a “smoke and mirrors” maneuver designed to provide cover for mandatory E-Verify.  It is a transparent – and largely ineffective – attempt to placate the agriculture community, which continues to express outrage over the devastation that mandatory E-Verify would inflict on their industry.

  • Rifts with Supposed Republican Allies: During yesterday’s preliminary mark-up of the legislation, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) said, “I just can’t abide with what we’re doing to my state in terms of the temporary need for temporary workers…It would devastate agriculture…If we do not recognize the demonstrated need for foreign workers, and I’m talking about temporary foreign workers in the agriculture field, we’re kidding ourselves.”  Even Lungren, a supposed ally, is publically chiding Smith.

  • Far From a United Front Among Anti-Immigrant OrganizationsLeading anti-immigrant organizations seem to be splitting on tactics and amendments.  While they all support mandatory E-Verify, FAIR is supporting an amendment sponsored by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), which would enable states to pass and enforce their own versions of E-Verify in exchange for support from business organizations. In the meantime, NumbersUSA has been mute on the bill.

  • This is the GOP Jobs Bill?: Do Republicans really want the debate over jobs to be between President Obama’s jobs plan, which experts have concluded would create 1.9 million jobs, and Lamar Smith’s bill, which would cost at least 800,000 jobs?   

We haven’t gotten past opening statements in Committee and the wheels are already wobbling. Even if Smith does manage to bring his E-Verify bill out of his own committee, the real question is: what will Speaker Boehner do?  Does he really want to bring forward legislation that divides the right, hurts small business, decimates agriculture, and embarrasses the party’s leading Presidential candidate?  Does he really want a bill to move forward that dramatically expands federal control, doesn’t work as advertised and is likely to lead to howls of protest from across the political spectrum should it become law as 2012 approaches?