Some GOP candidates fail to perform immigration checks

Arizona primary may put them to the test

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Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the fourth major Republican candidate, does not back mandatory E-Verify use, and his campaign has not signed up to use it — though as a member of Congress, his official office is already required to do so.

Mr. Paul’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.

In a twist, Mr. Santorum was signed up to use E-Verify when he was a senator. Under the 1996 amendment that established the program — which Mr. Santorum opposed — every congressional office is required to use the system.

Immigration has proved a thorny issue for the campaigns all around, and nowhere will that play a larger role than in Arizona, whose remote areas bordering Mexico are the key crossing points for illegal immigrants.

Politicians, particularly on the Republican side, see E-Verify as a way to weed illegal immigrants out of the workforce.

The program has always been optional at the federal level, but Arizona in 2007 became the first state to require all businesses to use the system. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state law, and several other states have followed Arizona’s lead.

Still, businesses have been slow to sign up. In Arizona, the state Republican and Democratic parties are registered. That isn’t the case in Mississippi or South Carolina, which have E-Verify requirements.

“E-Verify is a faulty federal database that imposes huge burdens on small startups, and campaigns are effectively small startups,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrant rights group. “It doesn’t surprise me they don’t want to use it. Nor does it surprise me politicians would say one thing and do another.”

President Obama supports making E-Verify mandatory, but only as part of broader legislation that would grant legal status to most illegal immigrants already in the country.

Not doing both at the same time, his administration says, would create a nightmare for businesses and could push illegal immigrants even deeper into the underground economy.

Mr. Sharry said he doubts that any of the three Republican candidates who favor mandatory E-Verify use would be able to make good on that promise once in the White House, because business groups and libertarian-minded Republicans would oppose it.

But Ms. Jenks said she expects Mr. Romney, Mr. Santorum or Mr. Gingrich to follow through.

“There’s no downside with E-Verify, especially with high unemployment,” she said. “Once you go on the record as strongly as you have, it’s kind of hard to back down, especially when the votes are clearly there in Congress.”

Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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