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House Judiciary Committee Passes Immigration Enforcement Bill

Legislation that would preserve jobs for legal workers by requiring US employers to check the work eligibility of all future hires through the E-Verify system was approved Tuesday by the House Committee on the Judiciary by a 20-13 vote.

Authored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), The Legal Workforce Act (HR 1147) is supported by Numbers USA, US Chamber of Commerce, National Restaurant Association, National Association of Homebuilders, International Franchise Association, National Federation of Independent Business and the Leading Builders of America.

“The Legal Workforce Act turns off the jobs magnet that attracts so many illegal immigrants to the United States [and] expands the E-Verify system and applies it to all US employers,” Smith said in a statement.

“Equally important,” Smith said, “the American people support E-Verify,” saying, “Polls show that from 71 percent to 85 percent of voters ‘support Congress passing new legislation that strengthens the rules making it illegal for businesses in the US 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,” Smith said.

The legislation would:

  • Repeal the current paper-based I-9 system and replace it with a completely electronic work eligibility check. However if an employer chooses to keep using the paper-based I-9 system, they may do so.
  • Gradually phase-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 would be required to use E-Verify. Within 12 months of enactment, businesses having 500 to 9,999 employees would be 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 would have to use E-Verify.
  • Allow a one-time six month extension of the initial phase-in and would provide that employees performing “agricultural labor or services” are subject to an E-Verify check within 36 months of the date of enactment.
  • Allow employers to use E-Verify to check the work eligibility of their current employees as long as they do so in a nondiscriminatory manner and of all employees who are in the same geographic location or in the same job category.
  • Preempt duplicative state laws mandating E-Verify use but would give states prominent roles in enforcing the law. Specifically, it 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 would allow states to enforce the federal E-Verify requirement and incentivizes them to do so by letting them keep the fines they recover from employers who violate the law.
  • Allow individuals to lock their Social Security number (SSN) so that it can’t be used by another person to get a job and would allow parents or legal guardians to lock the SSN of their minor children. If a SSN shows a pattern of unusual multiple use, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would be required to lock the SSN and alert the owner that their personal information may have been compromised.
  • Grant employers safe harbor from prosecution if they use the E-Verify program in good faith, and through no fault of their own, receive an incorrect eligibility confirmation.
  • Raise penalties on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants in violation of the requirements of the bill, which also would create a penalty for individuals (employees or employers) who knowingly submit false information to the E-Verify system.
  • Required DHS to conduct at least two pilot programs aimed at using technology within the E-Verify system to help further prevent identity theft in the system.

Smith and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) praised the committee’s vote in a joint statement.

“The Legal Workforce Act brings our nation’s employment eligibility system into the 21st century,” Smith and Goodlatte said. “Rather than relying on the current paper-based I-9 system that is susceptible to fraud, this bill requires all US 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.

Continuing, Smith and Goodlatte said, “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.”

E-Verify was established in 1996 and is operated by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It checks social security numbers of newly hired employees against Social Security Administration and DHS records to help ensure they are genuinely eligible to work in the US.

Smith and Goodlatte said the program quickly confirms 99.7 percent of work-eligible employees and takes less than two minutes to use.

Approximately 580,000 American employers currently use E-Verify and nearly 6 in 10 of America’s smallest businesses believe every employer should have to use E-Verify.  

Smith explains how to use E-Verify in this short video.

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