When Congress returns in September, health care will consume most of the legislative oxygen. But immigration reform will also fight for air.
The first skirmish likely will involve employment verification. House and Senate negotiators in September will have to work out differences in their respective bills to fund the Department of Homeland Security.
The House version contains a two-year extension of a government-run electronic verification system, E-Verify, while the Senate measure contains a three-year extension and an amendment that would permanently reauthorize the program, which is set to expire on September 30.
Used voluntarily by more than 137,000 employers, E-Verify checks new-hire information against Social Security and DHS databases. DHS announced in July that it would implement on September 8 a regulation compelling federal contractors to use E-Verify.
The contractor rule is codified in an amendment to the Senate version of the homeland appropriations bill written by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama.
The Society for Human Resource Management resists E-Verify expansion, asserting that mistakes in government records could cause hundreds of thousands of legal workers to be declared unauthorized.
The Senate homeland appropriations bill raises a red flag for companies because it would force verification of existing employees as well as new hires working on government projects. Businesses are leery of the potential disruption to operations.
Regardless of how the homeland bill turns out, E-Verify is likely to continue and become a central issue in broader immigration reform.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York and chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, intends to outline an immigration proposal after Labor Day that would include work-site and border enforcement, a path to legalization for currently undocumented workers and a system for bringing foreign workers into the U.S. economy.
Schumer seeks an employment verification system based on biometric identifiers such as a thumbprint. His stance bolsters a bill, the New Employee Verification Act, advocated by SHRM that would implement an electronic verification alternative to E-Verify that includes a biometric option.
Despite a likely health care war on Capitol Hill this fall, observers say Congress will rally to address immigration because in recent years it has vetted many of the major issues and voted on proposals that are likely to come up again.