The House Judiciary Committee approved two bills this week that would increase interior enforcement of immigration laws in the United States. The bills approved include one that would mandate the use of E-Verify by all U.S. businesses within 3 years and another that would ensure that all unaccompanied alien children (UACs) are returned safely to their home countries.

The Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 1174), introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), would require all U.S. employers to check the work eligibility of all future hires through the E-Verify system. Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Rep. Smith issued the following statements on the Committee's 20-13 vote to approve the bill:

Rep. Goodlatte:

The Legal Workforce Act brings our nation’s employment eligibility system into the 21st century. Rather than relying on the current paper-based I-9 system that is susceptible to fraud, this bill requires all U.S. employers to use a web-based system, E-Verify. This program takes less than two minutes to use and easily identifies whether or not a new employee is allowed to work in the United States.

Expanding E-Verify nationwide is a critical component to the interior enforcement of our immigration laws and will help maintain the integrity of our immigration system for the years ahead. In contrast to the 1986 immigration law, the Legal Workforce Act provides a tangible way to make sure our laws are enforced. Under the Legal Workforce Act, present and future administrations will no longer be able to turn off immigration enforcement efforts unilaterally. Instead, the bill ensures that where the federal government fails to act, the states can pick up the slack by empowering them to help enforce the law.

Rep. Smith:

The Legal Workforce Act turns off the jobs magnet that attracts so many illegal immigrants to the United States. The bill expands the E-Verify system and applies it to all U.S. employers.

Equally important, the American people support E-Verify. Polls show that from 71% to 85% of voters ‘support Congress passing new legislation that strengthens the rules making it illegal for businesses in the U.S. to hire illegal immigrants.’ In fact, E-Verify receives the most public support of any proposed immigration reform.

This bill is a common sense approach that will reduce illegal immigration and save jobs for legal workers. It deserves the support of everyone who wants to put the interests of American workers first.

The Legal Workforce Act would:

  • Repeals I-9 System: Repeals the current paper-based I-9 system and replaces it with a completely electronic work eligibility check, bringing the process into the 21st century.
  • Gradual Phase-In: Phases-in mandatory E-Verify participation for new hires in six month increments beginning on the date of enactment. Within six months of enactment, businesses having more than 10,000 employees are required to use E-Verify. Within 12 months of enactment, businesses having 500 to 9,999 employees are required to use E-Verify. Eighteen months after enactment, businesses having 20 to 499 employees must use E-Verify. And 24 months after enactment, businesses having 1 to 19 employees must use E-Verify.
  • Agriculture: Requires that employees performing "agricultural labor or services" are only subject to an E-Verify check within 36 months of the date of enactment.
  • States as Partners: Preempts duplicative state laws mandating E-Verify use but retains the ability of states and localities to condition business licenses on the requirement that the employer use E-Verify in good faith under federal law. In addition, the bill allows states to enforce the federal E-Verify requirement and incentives them to do so by letting them keep the fines they recover from employers who violate the law.
  • Protects Against Identity Theft: The bill allows individuals to lock their Social Security number (SSN) so that it can't be used by another person to get a job. It also allows parents or legal guardians to lock the SSN of their minor child. And if a SSN shows unusual multiple use, DHS is required to lock the SSN and alert the owner that their personal information may have been compromised.
  • Safe Harbor: Grants employers safe harbor from prosecution if they use the E-Verify program in good faith, and through no fault of theirs, receive an incorrect eligibility confirmation.

The Protection of Children Act (H.R. 1149), introduced by Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), would ensure that UACs would be safely retuned to their home countries. The bill would also provide greater transparency for UACs who stay with a sponsor in the United States while awaiting their immigration hearing. After the committee approved the bill 17-13, Reps. Goodlatte and Carter each issued the following statements:

Rep. Goodlatte:

The Obama Administration’s immigration policies have given confidence to parents who are in the U.S. illegally that they can stay and have encouraged them to bring their children, who are still in Central America and beyond, to the United States unlawfully. These children, often assisted by smugglers, face many dangerous situations as they travel through Mexico and then walk miles across a hostile border environment. We need to take action to stop these children from risking their lives to come to the United States unaccompanied and unlawfully.

The Protection of Children Act makes common sense changes to our laws to ensure minors who travel to the U.S. alone are returned home safely and quickly. I thank Congressman Carter for introducing this legislation and urge the House of Representatives to act on it soon.

Rep. Carter:

For far too long drug smugglers have continually used loopholes in our nation’s immigration law to make billions, all while preying upon the weakest in our society. The Protection of Children Act of 2015 stops this abuse and removes a loophole human traffickers have used for years. Last year, we saw the effect these loopholes have on our country and southern border when tens of thousands of juveniles marched across the border and into our cities, all at the taxpayer’s expense. The great state of Texas has felt this burden, probably more than any other state. This Administration needs to stop ignoring the obvious problem, burdening the American public and putting innocent lives at risk.

The Protection of Children Act would:

  • Repatriation of Unaccompanied Alien Minors: In 2014, an unprecedented number of UAMs were apprehended along our borders – in excess of 68,000, which is a 945% increase since 2011. The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 created two sets of rules regarding UAMs apprehended from contiguous and non-contiguous countries. Under current law, minors from contiguous countries (such as Mexico) can be immediately returned (if they consent, have not been trafficked and don’t have a credible fear of persecution). However, minors from other countries must be placed in very lengthy removal proceedings in immigration court (during which they are usually released into the United States, often to the very parents who attempted to smuggle them into the U.S.). The bill eliminates the conflicting rules and subjects all minors to expeditious return if they have not been trafficked and don’t have a credible fear of persecution.
  • Agreements: The bill provides authority for the Secretary of State to negotiate agreements with foreign countries regarding UAMs, including protections for the safety of minors returned to their countries of nationality.
  • Hearings: The bill ensures that minors who are victims of severe forms of trafficking are afforded a hearing before an Immigration Judge within 14 days.
  • Information on Sponsors: The bill provides for greater transparency and safety of minors by requiring HHS to provide DHS with biographical information regarding the sponsors or family members to whom the minors are released. Currently, there is no requirement to share sponsor or family information with DHS. Without this information, there is a danger these minors will be lost in the system, or worse, be inadvertently delivered into the hands of criminals or abusers. The bill also mandates that DHS follow up with the sponsors with whom the minors are placed to verify the sponsors’ immigration status and issue notices for the sponsors to appear in immigration court where appropriate.
  • Special Immigrant Juvenile Status: Due to a mistake in current law, juveniles are able to obtain legal status if they can simply show they have been abandoned by a single parent. The bill reaffirms the original intent of the law to only provide protected status to juveniles who have lost or been abandoned by both parents.
  • Asylum Applications: The bill closes a commonly exploited loophole that allows minors to get two bites of the apple with regard to review of their asylum applications.

Two more enforcement bills are currently being marked up by the committee. They include a bill that would reform the United States’ asylum laws and one that would allow state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws.

Interior Enforcement

Updated: Thu, Mar 19th 2015 @ 10:30am EDT