Oh, how things have changed in just a few years.
Today, the House of Representatives approved, with almost unanimous support, a bill that extends E-Verify for another 3 years. The electronic employment verification program, which NumbersUSA believes would have the biggest impact in ending the flow of illegal immigration to the United States, is set to expire at the end of the month, but, now that it's passed through both chambers of Congress, we fully expect Pres. Obama to sign the extension into law.
It was just 3 years ago that an E-Verify extension was in doubt, making today's House action so significant. The extension was offered in the Senate, by Democratic Senator Pat Leahy, where it passed with unanimous consent. The bill then showed up on Tuesday's House calendar under a House procedure called "Suspension of the Rules". The House suspends the rules when House Leaders believe the bill is "non-controversial" and has support of at least two-thirds of its Members. When the bill is brought to the floor, a motion to suspend the rules is raised. No amendments are offered and a two-thirds vote is required for passage. In many instances, there's no roll call, just a voice vote. After coming to the floor on Tuesday, the vote was delayed until tonight when it passed by a 412-to-3 margin.
E-Verify is now officially, in the minds of Congress and its Leaders, "non-controversial". The E-Verify extension didn't come without compromise, though. The bill also extends three small visa programs, including religious worker visas, investor visas, and cultural exchange visas.
Why was today's vote such a big deal? Three years ago, an extension of the E-Verify program was a bit more contentious.
E-Verify was set to expire in March of 2009, so lawmakers began working on an extension in the fall of 2008. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, however, wouldn't lift a hold he placed on the extension without a massive increase in green cards, so Congress kicked the E-Verify can down the road until the spring.
Facing expiration at the end of March, a new debate started during the Senate's consideration of a must-pass, omnibus spending bill earlier in the month. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama offered a 5-year E-Verify extension as an amendment, but a motion to table the amendment was raised - ironically by Sen. Leahy. The motion to table passed by a 50-to-47 margin, but Congress did give E-Verify a 6-month lifeline by extending the program through September.
In June, the debate surfaced again with the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee including a 2-year reauthorization in its markup of the DHS spending bill for 2010. The bill would eventually pass through the House.
In July, Sen. Sessions offered an amendment during the Senate's consideration of the DHS spending bill, but this amendment would permanently reauthorize E-Verify. Again, a motion to table Sen. Sessions amendment was raised, but unlike in the spring, and with the unemployment rate soaring, the motion was defeated by a 44-to-53 margin. (Read Roy's analysis of the vote.)
The DHS spending bill, however, never became law, and it wasn't until a continuing resolution passed in October that E-Verify was re-authorized.
So after all the drama of 2009, here we are in the first week of legislative business after a month-long summer recess, and the House has quietly passed a bill, without controversy, that will extend E-Verify through September of 2015.
We would have liked a permanent reauthorization of E-Verify like the one Sen. Sessions offered back in 2009, but an extension of E-Verify before it expired and without controversy is a major improvement over 2009, and maybe one small step towards a nationwide mandate of E-Verify for all employers in the future.
CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Director of Content & Activism for NumbersUSA
Updated: Fri, Sep 14th 2012 @ 1:03pm EDT