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House Judiciary Committee Passes Lamar Smith’s E-Verify Bill on Party Line Vote

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lamar smithThe House Judiciary Committee just voted, 22 – 13, to pass Rep. Lamar Smith’s E-Verify bill, H.R. 2885. It was a party line vote. All the Democrats voted no while the GOP members voted with Smith.

The next step in the House is up to Republican leadership, and Smith’s bill is generating serious controversy among traditional GOP allies.  In addition, it is opposed by the labor movement and Democrats because of the impact it will have on legal workers and U.S. citizens whose jobs are threatened by errors in the E-Verify system.  And progressives understand that this is nothing less than the GOP’s attempt to fire millions of Latino workers.  And for what?  The program doesn’t even do what it’s supposed to do.  E-Verify actually identifies undocumented workers less than half the time. 

When asked about the future of Smith’s legislation, an anonymous congressional aide dryly noted that the bill “has not yet been scheduled for floor consideration…and the House will be focusing this fall on our pro-growth agenda to remove harmful regulations that are increasing uncertainty and preventing economic growth and job creation.”  Asked about House Speaker John Boehner’s position on the bill, a spokesman for Boehner said, “We will review the legislation after the committee passes it.”  Hardly a ringing endorsement.

If Speaker Boehner and Republican leadership want to move bills that “remove harmful regulations” and are “pro-growth,” then mandatory E-Verify should not have a prayer.  This bill would impose universal and staggering new mandates on small businesses, would hurt American job seekers, and would destroy key industries such as agriculture.

Below are the latest reasons why Smith’s mandatory E-Verify bill should give Republican leadership serious heartburn:

  • Division on the Right:  In a piece headlined, “E-Verify Bill Against Illegal Workers in Doubt,” the Wall Street Journal reports today that growing opposition among conservatives and libertarians to mandatory E-Verify threatens the passage of the bill.  Wrote the Journal, “Last week, a coalition of regional and national groups that champion less government, privacy protection and small-business interests wrote a letter to members of Congress urging them to vote against the bill, and took out an ad on Politico. The coalition is using social media to spread the word to affiliated members. It plans to start airing radio spots in some districts.  The letter said requiring the use of E-Verify, which is currently voluntary, would create a de facto national identification system, infringe on rights such as the freedom to seek work, cripple small businesses, turn employers into immigration agents and encourage identity theft. The letter calls the bill a “job killer” that will cost employers millions of dollars.”  The new article and escalating outcry on the rightcomes after last week’s Journal editorial against the bill, which rightfully characterized mandatory E-Verify as a project “to harass American business into becoming the enforcement agent for U.S. immigration laws.”

  • A Self-Inflicted Wound on U.S. Agriculture that a Guest Worker Band-Aid Cannot Cure:  The U.S.agriculture community continues to highlight the devastation that mandatory E-Verify would inflict on its industry – and the millions of non-farm jobs dependent on a vibrant agriculture sector.  In California, Manuel Cunha, president of the Fresno, Calif.-based Nisei Farmers League, told McClatchy of the impact of mandatory E-Verify on their member businesses, “None of our workers would qualify.  We’d be dead. It would be over for us.”  In Florida, Marie Bedner of the family-owned Bedner’s Farm Fresh Market expressed fear over mandatory E-Verify in Florida, noting that “The whole immigration reform issue needs to be addressed at the federal level…In Georgia, they had no labor to pick the crops. They rotted in the field.”  As Bedner points out, Georgia is a real-world test case that shows the consequences of E-Verify – after Georgia’s legislature passed an E-Verify mandate last year, the state experienced a crisis in the fieldsthat led to 11,000 farm jobs going unfilled this summer and, ultimately, crops rotting in the fields.  Now,Alabama, the home to the most draconian anti-immigrant law in the nation, is witnessing the damage to agriculture caused by its anti-immigrant legislation.  According to the Associated Press, Alabama farmers are calling on state lawmakers to make “emergency changes” to the law to protect their industry.  The AP reports of Alabama’s Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Wayne Walker fear that the law “could cost tens of millions of dollars in losses if farmers can’t find enough help for harvesting.  Tomato growers in east Alabama already are suffering because the law scared away the people who normally pick their crops.”  Smith’s “cure” for this self-inflicted wound on American agriculture?   A new guest worker program that is already drawing fire from workers’ advocates and the far right has little chance of becoming law.  Most growers will not bet the farm, so to speak, on Smith’s “E-Verify plus guest workers” gamble. 

  • Anti-Immigrant Zealots vs. Big Business:  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce tepidly endorsed Smith’s E-Verify bill earlier this year because it appeared to keep states from enacting different E-Verify requirements in favor of one federal, nationwide system.  Yet the inclusion of the state preemption language outraged anti-immigration restrictionists like FAIR and Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who see states as the laboratories of anti-immigrant hostility.  Now, with FAIR’s support, King is planning a poison pill amendment that would enable states to pass and enforce their own versions of mandatory E-Verify.  Will the amendment pass?  Will Lamar Smith be able to keep his fragile coalition together, or will the Chamber jump ship?  Will House Republican leaders provide a platform for further infighting by bringing this bill to the floor?  Or will Congress walk away from this mandatory E-Verify nightmare? 

Republican leadership can’t be happy with the way Lamar Smith’s pet project is creating rifts between different sectors of the Party.  And the American people can’t be happy that Congress is considering yet another half-baked immigration enforcement plan that won’t actually solve the problem.  Before long, Smith’s “jobs plan” – a bill that would kill jobs, burden business, choke the economy, and divide the Party in the run up to 2012 – will not only become a laughing stock in political circles but a headache for House leaders.