Employer Verification Highlighted in Advance of Senate Debate

By Staff Report

May. 9, 2007

As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid confirmed that a major debate on immigration reform would begin on Monday, May 14, he emphasized the importance of employer verification policy.

At a Capitol Hill press conference on Wednesday, May 9, Reid said that he would launch Senate deliberation by reintroducing the comprehensive reform bill that the chamber approved a year ago.


Immediately, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and four other Republicans who voted for last year’s Senate bill urged Reid to delay the debate until new bipartisan legislation could be cobbled together. Negotiations, which also involve the White House, have been going on for weeks.


Reid, D-Nevada, asserted that he set the debate timetable two months ago and that last year’s Senate bill would provide a good foundation to begin deliberation. He expects a bipartisan substitute to be offered during the debate.


Last year’s measure would have strengthened border security, implemented a mandatory electronic employer verification system, significantly increased fines for companies employing illegal workers, increased the number of nonskilled and highly skilled immigrants allowed into the country annually, and created a path to legal residency for many of the country’s approximately 12 million illegal aliens.


In his opening statement, Reid stressed the need to improve work-site enforcement.


“We’re going to have something on employer sanctions that is not a Catch-22, which it is now,” he said.


Reid, according to an aide, was referring to the controversy surrounding a December raid at six Swift & Co. meat processing plants. The action resulted in the arrests of 1,282 alleged illegal workers.


Swift was a target despite the fact that it participates in a government-run electronic verification program called Basic Pilot. Swift, which says that the Department of Homeland Security rejected its offer to collaborate in addressing the problem, asserts that the disruption cost $30 million. The workers deceived Swift—and the government—through identity theft, which Basic Pilot can’t stop.


“What we want is a system where the rule of law is realistic and enforceable … so that employers and employees know what the law is [and] can follow it,” says Federico de Jesus, a Reid spokesman.


De Jesus said the details of employer verification policy will depend on how negotiations unfold. But he says that the use of tamper-proof identification should be part of the solution.


The HR Initiative for a Legal Workforce, a coalition of groups including the Society for Human Resource Management and the HR Policy Association, is lobbying for what it calls a secure electronic employment verification system that utilizes biometric information provided by private-sector companies.


Verification policy is just one of the myriad details composing the complex and emotional immigration issue. Some leading Republicans want Reid to delay the debate.


In a May 9 letter to Reid, Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Mel Martinez, R-Florida, wrote, “We are united in our resolve to enact comprehensive immigration reform this year and will only support moving forward with legislation that is a product of the ongoing bipartisan discussions.”


All four voted for last year’s Senate bill.


But those negotiations may not result in a bill that satisfies House Republicans, a group of whom warned the Senate in a May 8 letter not to offer a bill that included “amnesty.”


“Amnesty occurs when an illegal immigrant is not deported as required by law, but is legalized and allowed to stay,” wrote Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, Steve King, R-Iowa, Peter King, R-New York, Brian Bilbray, R-California, and Ed Royce, R-California. “Amnesty rewards lawbreakers with the objective of their crime, and it grants them benefits we withhold from those who have played by the rules and are waiting their turn.”


Smith is the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. King is the top Republican on the immigration subcommittee.


Smith asserts that stricter work-site compliance is a key to reform. “We could have a major attrition of the number of illegal immigrants in the country today,” he said. “There is widespread support for better enforcing employer sanctions.”


—Mark Schoeff Jr.

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