EDITORS NOTE: Last week, the House Judiciary Committee completed its mark up of Chairman Smith's Legal Workforce Act, H.R.2885, which would require all businesses to use E-Verify. Ironically, the more liberal Members of the Committee tried to use conservative arguments in their attempt to delay or poison the bill. Some Members went as far as calling portions of the bill an amnesty for illegal aliens, while other Members argued that the bill for being against states rights and increasing the size and scope of the federal government.
This Friday, September 30, 2011, will mark the 15th anniversary of the enactment of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which brought us the basic pilot program now known as E-Verify. After widespread success and popularity over numerous reauthorizations, E-Verify is now waiting for Congress to remove its pilot program limitations and grant consent to administer the program as a national mandate.
The E-Verify program is due for reauthorization this time next year, but House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas has a bolder idea: permanently reauthorize E-Verify and put our country on the path to a dependable, legal workforce. Last week marked a major milestone for this goal as Chairman Smith’s bill H.R.2885 (Legal Workforce Act) passed the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 22-to-13.
The legislative mark-up lasted two days as a result of lengthy opening statements on September 15 and consideration of about 50 amendments on September 21. It was a marathon that could have easily been a voyage. All Members of the Committee made an appearance at one point or another to speak or simply cast their vote. Most of the comments were partisan and most of the amendments were frivolous, used to delay or poison the bill.
The Democrats had their backs to the wall and they were using atypical arguments in an attempt to derail the bill including calling it an amnesty, supporting the Supreme Court’s decision on state employment verification, and complaining about the intrusive role of big government. Despite a couple of tough votes, the bill survived unscathed.
During opening statements on September 15, Chairman Lamar Smith laid the ground work for prioritizing this legislation as a jobs bill necessary for economic recovery. He said, “We can open up millions of jobs for unemployed Americans” and continued to say that “E-Verify is a job killer, but only for illegal workers.”
In contrast, Ranking Member John Conyers of Michigan said the Legal Workforce Act (H.R.2885) would push workers off the books and would "aggravate the tragedy” rather than remedy it. Oddly enough, he even complained that it would massively expand the role of government, foreshadowing the desperate attacks from his side of the aisle in the following week.
While Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Elton Gallegly of California opened with a brief history lesson about E-Verify and continued to explain the merits of the legislation, Zoe Lofgren, his Subcommittee Ranking Member from California, returned to the Conyers’ argument against government expansion and complained that E-Verify would cost small businesses $2.6 billion a year, an imaginary number. Nevertheless, Lofgren sounded like Ronald Reagan criticizing the role of government on behalf of small businesses. Politics can be a funny business sometimes.
After Steve King of Iowa spoke briefly about the responsibility of state governments, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas returned to the usual opposition talking points: oppose E-Verify and push for amnesty via "Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR)." Mrs. Jackson Lee said CIR is "border security with process” and continued by defending the Administration’s "record number" of apprehensions.
Another California Member, Linda Sanchez, would continue Sheila Jackson Lee’s argument and even complained that the Committee was considering a bill that would make life more difficult for legal workers.
The mark-up then adjourned for votes and the weekend before reopening the process on Wednesday, September 21 when Chairman Smith made his opening remarks and proceeded to consideration of the amendments, which were organized according to which section of the bill they corresponded.
During the section relating to workforce issues, Ranking Member Conyers nearly fell out of his rocking chair as he lashed out with accusations against Subcommittee Chairman Gallegly claiming he did not support collective bargaining, due process, and workers rights. He was clearly trying to change the subject to an attack on Labor politics. Thankfully, Mr. Gallegly didn’t take the bait and proceeded to maintain order.
Rather than explain each of the numerous amendments individually, it’s easier to recognize that the purpose of the amendments was not to constructively change the bill, but rather to stall and eventually kill the legislation altogether. Throughout the amendment debate, the Democrats tried to change the subject, derail the narrative, and delay consideration. To be successful, they had to either win a couple of “on the fence” Republicans or stall final passage long enough for Committee leaders to pull the bill from consideration out of pure frustration.
To win over some Republicans, the Democrats criticized the bill for being against states rights, being pro-amnesty, and increasing the size and scope of government, incredibly odd arguments for notoriously liberal Members like Jerry Nadler of New York, Mel Watt of North Carolina, and Howard Berman of California to make. One Member even claimed that if Kris Kobach (Kansas Secretary of State who authored the famous Arizona immigration bill) called H.R.2885 an amnesty, that it surely was an amnesty. On the other hand, Members like Sheila Jackson Lee held true to her support of amnesty while Maxine Waters of California even accused the Republicans of "demonizing" the word amnesty.
It was a wild time with Members all over the place on a variety of issues and nuances. It wasn’t until the Democrats were defeated on a close "states rights” amendment offered by Zoe Lofgren that they realized the day was not going their way. The Committee began to calm down after that 18-to-16 vote and when Members returned from House floor votes, they proceeded straight to final passage where the bill passed on a party line vote of 22-to-13.
H.R.2885 was reported to the House as passed and now stands ready for debate on the floor of the House of Representatives. We now need Speaker Boehner to add it to the legislative calendar and make it an order of business. It was a small but major victory for those who support a legal workforce. Here’s hoping that all our E-Verify birthday wishes come true.
JONATHAN OSBORNE is the Chief Legislative Analyst for NumbersUSA