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Employer Verification Poses Challenge for House GOP

September 15, 2006
Related Topics: Immigration, Latest News
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Hoping to gain an election advantage, House Republicans are pushing to enact a package of border security measures in September-and get Senate approval-before the congressional recess. So far, an electronic employment verification system is not part of the mix.

While the GOP moves forward with legislation to address a range of border issues-from building a fence to adding more patrol agents and facilitating the capture and return of illegal aliens-there has not yet been an agreement on verification.

"There's been some discussion," House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said during a Capitol Hill press conference Thursday, September 14. "Those conversations are continuing. No decisions yet."

Both the House and Senate immigration reform bills included provisions to strengthen work-site enforcement. They each include language to establish electronic verification.

A conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate immigration legislation has been put off following a summer of House field hearings on the Senate bill, which conservatives oppose because it encompasses a guest worker program and a path to citizenship for most of the approximately 12 million illegal aliens in the United States. The House legislation focuses solely on enforcement.

House Republicans insist that border security come first. Although they aren't ruling anything out, work site enforcement may not happen in September. It could be revisited during a lame duck session after the November elections.

"The employer piece is hugely important in the final product, but it is also one of the most difficult to solve," says Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Florida, chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee.

Putnam said complications arise on employer verification when it comes to deciding whether a Social Security card will suffice as documentation for new hires and existing employees or whether tamper-resistant identification should be developed. Whatever is decided has to then be used for 200 million workers in the U.S. economy.

"It's in a category of its own in terms of implementation," Putnam says.

Another reason for the delay on verification may be that the business community is pushing back against some of the proposals. Critics have assailed the Basic Pilot verification system for its error rate and the hiring delays it could potentially cause. About 10,724 companies had signed up as of mid-August.

For now, the GOP focus is on the border security, where the party hopes to realize the greatest electoral benefit.

"Republicans believe that we can have a virtually no-penetration border," says House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois.

Mark Schoeff Jr.

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