From MySanAntonio.com, Gary Martin, firstname.lastname@example.org, 23 Sept 2011.
Latinos protest proposal tied to E-Verify check
WASHINGTON — A Republican-sponsored immigration bill that would require employers to use Internet-based government databases to check the immigration status of new workers drew protests from Latino and immigrant rights groups Thursday after a House panel voted along party lines to approve the legislation.
The Legal Workforce Act is sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who said 23 million Americans are unemployed but 7 million people without legal U.S. status are employed.
“These jobs should go to American citizens and legal workers,” Smith said.
But Democrats charged that the government databases under E-Verify, currently a voluntary program for private employers, is rife with errors that could cost thousands of legal workers their jobs.
Current law requires employers to verify employment status by asking employees to provide a variety of documents, ranging from drivers’ licenses to passports. Supporters of the E-Verify system claim the authenticity of those documents is sometimes suspect.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said the bill is being sold to employers as a quick fix to preserve jobs for legal workers.
“However, despite attempts to improve the system, it remains flawed,” Jackson Lee said.
Without improvements, the agriculture industry could lose up to 1.5 million farm workers, she contended.
The bill was passed by the House Judiciary Committee 22-13 Wednesday and sent to the full House for consideration.
A Senate version of the E-Verify legislation, sponsored by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is opposed by Democrats, who control the legislative body.
Meanwhile, business and agriculture groups are split on the House bill.
Strong opposition from the agricultural sector has led Smith to propose a separate agriculture guest-worker bill that the committee will address next month.
NumbersUSA, a group that supports tighter immigration controls, backs the House bill as a necessary measure to curtail illegal immigration.
The National Immigration Forum and other immigrant rights groups oppose the bill as a thinly veiled national ID system based on flawed databases.
Smith “came a step closer to forcing every American employer to get permission from government before hiring,” said Ali Noorani, National Immigration Forum executive director.
Some conservative and Libertarian groups, like Tea Party Nation and the Liberty Coalition, also oppose the bill.
Specifically, the bill would require all private employers to electronically check the immigration status and workforce eligibility through databases maintained by the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Homeland Security Department.
The electronic checks would be conducted on employees after they are hired.