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House Republican Immigration Bill Emphasizes Verification, Enforcement

June 20, 2007
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 In an alternative to comprehensive immigration reform being debated in the Senate, several House Republicans introduced a bill on Tuesday, June 19, that would concentrate solely on border security and work-site enforcement.

GOP leaders of the House immigration and homeland security committees propose to require that all 7 million U.S. employers sign up for the current government-run employee verification system, Basic Pilot.

About 16,000 companies are currently using the Web-based mechanism to check applicant documents against government Social Security databases. Within two years of enactment of the House GOP legislation, employers would have to use Basic Pilot to verify new hires. All workers would have to be verified within six years.

The sponsors of the bill argue that Congress should enforce immigration laws that are already on the books before moving on to broader measures. Their bill denies legalization for the approximately 12 million undocumented people currently in the United States.

“Let’s get back to the basics,” said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa and a member of the House Judiciary Committee. “Let’s stop the bleeding at the border. Let’s shut off the jobs magnet.”

The Republicans asserted that the key to stopping illegal immigration is to break its link to employment.

The measure would allow the Department of Homeland Security to investigate when an employer submits a Social Security number more than once or when the same number is submitted by multiple employers.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said that he and his colleagues are calling for the Bush administration to “enforce employer sanctions systematically, not just sporadically. It would be immigration reform just to enforce current laws.”

But HR groups criticize Basic Pilot for being inaccurate, inefficient and unable to catch identity fraud. The HR Initiative for a Legal Workforce, which is led by the Society for Human Resource Management, has questioned whether Basic Pilot has the capacity to handle all U.S. employers.

The organization is advocating that employers not be limited to Basic Pilot for verification. One option is for companies to use an overhauled Basic Pilot that operates from cleaned-up government databases.

The other choice would be an alternative electronic system based on advanced technology, additional background checks and the voluntary use of biometric information stored with government-certified private-sector vendors.

Some members of the House Ways & Means Social Security subcommittee expressed doubt at a recent hearing about the costs and prospects for a massive upgrade of Basic Pilot.

But the House Republicans are confident it can be funded. “We’re going to commit to that money,” Smith said. “We have no choice.”

King touted Basic Pilot’s performance, saying that it verifies applicants on the first submission 98 percent of the time. Other estimates put that figure at 92 percent.

He admits that the system can’t detect identity fraud, but says that making that enhancement would require the use of biometrics, which is beyond the scope of the GOP bill.

“It’s something we need to get to sooner or later in this country,” King said.

But what the GOP wants to do now is hold employers accountable for who they hire. Stopping illegal immigration has to go beyond the border, said Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-California.

“You have to do it in workplace enforcement,” he said. “You have to do it in the neighborhoods.”

Mark Schoeff Jr.

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