The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement hosted a hearing Wednesday morning on E-Verify, specifically H.R.2164, the Legal Workforce Act. H.R.2164 was introduced by Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas on June 14, 2011 and would, among other things, make E-Verify mandatory and permanent after a three year phase-in period.
The Congressmen in attendance were Elton Gallegly (Subcommittee Chairman) of California, Lamar Smith (Committee Chairman), Steve King (Committee Vice-Chairman) of Iowa, Zoe Lofgren (Subcommittee Ranking Member) of California, John Conyers (Committee Ranking Member) of Michigan, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, and Ken Calvert of California as a Committee witness.
The witnesses joining Rep. Calvert were Barry Rutenberg with the National Association of Home Builders, Craig Miller the founder of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse representing the National Restaurant Association, and Tyler Moran with the National Immigration Law Center.
While this hearing was scheduled without much fanfare, it opened surrounded with speculation that the legislation in question would eventually earn a vote in the House of Representatives, thus the potential to become law. This is important because since 1996 E-Verify has operated as a voluntary pilot program requiring periodic reauthorization by Congress. However, if the buzz is correct, the Legal Workforce Act would change the rules by making E-Verify permanent and mandatory. In other words, this was an important hearing even though it was far from eventful. Indeed, the hearing was so controversial that Democrats forgot to attend, delaying the hearing for about 15 minutes (it is not an official meeting without minority representation).
When the hearing was finally called to order, Chairman Gallegly opened with his usual remarks thanking the witnesses, commending the bill’s sponsor, and vouching for the E-Verify Program’s success.
However, Ranking Member Lofgren immediately went on to attack E-Verify and specifically the idea of expanding the program. She insists that mandatory E-Verify will not result in “workers” packing up and leaving the country. She even says nation-wide mandatory E-Verify will cost more than it’s worth, citing $17.3 billion in lost tax revenue as employers move into an “underground economy.”
The two logical fallacies of her accusation depend on an assumption that taxes are currently being paid and that employers will have no second thoughts about moving to a black market labor supply, despite the heavy penalties and damage to their company brand and reputation. She even went as far as saying that the bill is “irresponsible” due to a 9% national unemployment rate. This statement alone indicates that: she is clueless to the problem; has no idea why we have 9% unemployment, depressed wages, and a weakened dollar; and has blurred the line between the legal workforce and illegal employment.
Committee Chairman Lamar Smith took over for Rep. Lofgren when her time expired and just as quickly returned to Mr. Gallegly’s points about the success of E-Verify and reasons why it was ready to move from a pilot program to national mandate. He emphasized that 7 million people are working in the United States illegally and that those jobs should go to American workers. He even characterized the “E” in E-Verify as standing for “easy and effective.” Chairman Smith continued to justify his legislation by saying,
You have to show your Social Security Number to visit the doctor, go to the bank, or buy a home. It makes sense that businesses would use the same identification to ensure they have a legal workforce by checking the legal status of their employees.
Unfortunately, many states do not enforce their own E-Verify laws and others only apply E-Verify in a very limited way. The Legal Workforce Act will help ensure that employers from every state are on equal footing when it comes to hiring employees.
After Chairman Smith’s statement, the 24-term Congressman from Michigan and former Committee Chairman John Conyers made his opening remarks by claiming that this particular hearing was a traditional breakdown of views between labor and business, citing a number of unions who oppose the bill and business interests who support the bill including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
This is an old “go-to” argument for some Democrats, and usually one they use when they can find no other legitimate reason for opposition or support. With the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and NFIB in support of H.R.2164, there is less room for Members of the opposition to dissent in good faith, so they turned to the unions to justify their opposition. I like to pick on Mr. Conyers, but for all his vices, he is a good politician. He knows how to justify his vote, which, as the Ranking Member, consequently becomes the rationale some Members of his party will use to oppose the bill.
Mr. Conyers went on to say that “we’re dangerously close to the possibility of legislation” and requested another hearing, which is a delay tactic. There have been numerous hearings and even votes on E-Verify over the past few Congresses, including an E-Verify hearing earlier in this Congress. I was glad to see Chairman Gallegly interrupt Ranking Member Conyers by pointing to a hearing the Subcommittee held in January. Of course, Mr. Conyers claimed there was no legislation at that point, indicating that he paid little attention to the earlier hearing (the same hearing he forgot his eye glasses and claimed he could not see the E-Verify demonstration). Ranking Member Lofgren interrupted the exchange by griping that the Democrats did not receive a bill until 3 a.m., which prompted Mr. Gallegly to point out that the Republicans gave them a draft of the bill over a week ago (well before it was made public).
Mr. Conyers continued his diatribe by saying there are huge implications on jobs and that the overriding problem with the bill is that E-Verify doesn’t work. Similar to Mrs. Lofgren, he said it’s going to create an underworld of “off the books” workers. Conyers said, “We’ve got to use immigrant labor and the question is how to make it as legal as possible.” He continued by saying E-Verify’s error rate is around 30% and insinuated that “everyone knows that.”
After the four opening statements by the Committee leadership, the hearing moved on to the witnesses and the first to testify was Rep. Ken Calvert of California who helped pass the E-Verify program in 1996. Mr. Calvert immediately said, “As a former restaurateur, I’m offended that someone would assume I would use an underground workforce.” He continued to emphasize that most small businesses comply with the law and said it’s a false assumption they would suddenly decide to break the laws because of E-Verify.
When it was Craig Miller’s turn to testify, he said we need a uniform law because employees not verified by his company (former company Ruth’s Chris steakhouse) would simply cross the street and work for a competitor. While he made a good point in support of pursuing a uniform law, Mr. Conyers used it as a talking point to pounce on. He said, “Is there something I’m missing about employees crossing the street for a job if they are fired” and indicated they would just find someplace that did not use E-Verify. This caused Tyler Moran (“a lawyer” as referred to by Mr. Conyers as if her occupation equated higher wisdom) with the National Immigration Law Center to say “just because it’s mandatory, doesn’t mean it’s mandatory. People will find a way around.”
During further questions, Mr. Conyers even said if we have “Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” we would no longer need E-Verify. Of course the logical fallacy there assumes that a massive amnesty would end illegal immigration. He went on to question each of the witnesses about whether or not they support Comprehensive Immigration Reform. While Ms. Moran indicated that she would ”certainly write a better bill,” Mr. Miller (of the Restaurant Association) said he supports the rule of law and that Comprehensive Immigration Reform is not the answer (BTW, he may run for U.S. Senate in Florida).
Committee Vice-Chairman Steve King of Iowa took over questioning by making a statement that America is not going to go hungry if we enforce the rule of law. He said, “In business, you follow the path of least resistance to maximize profits.” However, when he questioned Ms. Moran, she immediately claimed E-Verify is a form of discrimination, which instigated an entertaining exchange between her and Mr. King that ended with the gentleman from Iowa saying, “the computer doesn’t know what color they are.”
Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas took over questioning and, as usual, plugged Comprehensive Immigration Reform and threatened to amend the Legal Workforce Act with amnesty language. She continued by questioning the witnesses about Comprehensive Immigration Reform, but Barry Rutenberg with the National Association of Home Builders had the best response. He said, with 160,000 members, I pretty much have someone who will support anything.” On the other hand, Ms. Moran said she would support legalization combined with E-Verify because without legalization it would cost between $5 and $6 billion to make the program national. Another misleading number, from a lawyer no less.
Rep. Jackson Lee then called for a hearing on Comprehensive Immigration Reform and ended her questioning as the last speaker.
With the hearing concluded, we are now one step closer to E-Verify legislation being considered in the full House of Representatives. At that time, we will find out who really supports E-Verify and who makes excuses. Despite some amendment debate on the Appropriations bills, the next official step for E-Verify a full committee mark-up in Judiciary, which should prove very constructive if not entertaining.
JONATHAN OSBORNE is the Chief Legislative Assistant for NumbersUSA
Updated: Mon, Oct 2nd 2017 @ 4:09pm EDT