House Judiciary Committee Passes Lamar Smith’s E-Verify Bill

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A House committee Wednesday approved a bill to require that every business in the country use the E-Verify system to determine if prospective hires are authorized workers or undocumented immigrants.

The House Judiciary Committee vote followed two days of debate in two different weeks and was split along party lines, with 13 Democrats opposing and all 22 Republicans voting for the “Legal Workforce Act.” A vote by the full House had not been scheduled as of Wednesday evening. The bill would mandate that businesses nationwide do what is already required of employers in Arizona: Use the employer-verification program to root out undocumented immigrants from the workforce. Currently, Arizona and 16 other states use the federal E-Verify database to varying degrees.

The Legal Workforce Act could open up millions of jobs for unemployed Americans by requiring employers to use E-Verify,” said committee Chairman Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, who wrote the legislation. “It makes no sense to rely on the paper-based, error-prone I-9 system, when a successful, Web-based program is available.”

The act would require employers nationwide to use the USCIS electronic “E-Verify” system instead of paper I-9s to verify that job applicants are legally authorized to work in the United States. The E-Verify system is currently voluntary for most businesses and is used by only 4% of employers nationwide, although some companies are required by state or federal regulation to use the system. Public and private employers in Alabama, Arizona and Mississippi are now required to use E-Verify, as well as employers with federal contracts or subcontracts that contain the Federal Acquisition E-Verify clause. While the bill has the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association, among others, it has generated substantial protest from critics (including AILA and the ACLU) who maintain that the current E-Verify software is ill-equipped to handle large-scale nationwide use and could result in mismatches barring legal workers from employment.

The bill also upset some tea-party activists, who want Republicans to abandon the effort to take E-Verify to a national level. Some lawmakers believe that states should be free to enact their own E-Verify laws, to ease concerns over the federal government imposing on states’ jurisdictions.

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