The latest version of the Senate immigration bill still repeals E-Verify but keeps it operational in the meantime so businesses in states that require its use can keep using it over the next five years.
That change is part of a new 350-page amendment filed late Tuesday by the "Gang of Eight" senators who wrote the bill, which now runs to 867 pages and covers everything from legalizing illegal immigrants to boosting border security to rewriting the legal immigration system.
"We have made some technical fixes and clarifying edits to the legislative language, but that's it. This is a routine step," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and chief sponsor of the bill.
He said they worked to finish the new version more than a week before the bill goes to the Judiciary Committee for the first votes on May 9.
The new changes come as immigrant-rights advocates rallied in cities across the country to demand Congress pass the bill.
"This May Day is particularly special because we are getting closer and closer to enacting real immigration reform that will provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million hardworking, undocumented immigrants who call America home," said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.
May 1 has become a traditional day for major immigration rallies. The Associated Press reported that Wednesday's events drew thousands of people, though that was far from the millions who marched in 2006 and 2007, which were the last two times Congress debated a major immigration overhaul.
This year's bill grants legal status to most of the 11 million illegal immigrants, but withholds a full path to citizenship for some of them until after more steps are taking on border security and the government has set up an electronic verification system for businesses to check their employers.
That verification system has been a major sticking point.
The original bill repealed E-Verify, which is the current system and is voluntary at the federal level, though a handful of states have mandated its use, and it's also required for all members of Congress and federal contractors.
In place of E-Verify, the bill sets up a successor Electronic Verification System over several years.
The bill's authors said calling it a repeal of E-Verify was a misunderstanding. They added new language specifically keeping the program operational, which they said was meant to "clarify" the matter while the new system is being set up.
"That is such a lame excuse," replied Kris W. Kobach, secretary of state in Kansas and a leading critic of the bill.
Mr. Kobach said it makes no sense to scrap E-Verify at all, given the program's popularity among businesses that use it.
"It's a waste of time and money. Why in the world would we abolish one of the rarest things in American political history — a government program that's working?" he said.
Critics say the program has been tarnished by bad publicity because of a higher error rate in the last decade.
The error rate has since dropped, and the Obama administration has said E-Verify should be expanded nationwide.
This new version of the legislation also boosts fines and fees for many of the programs.
Lawmakers also tightened up prohibitions on drunk drivers, so that those convicted of three drunken-driving charges are deemed inadmissible regardless of when the charges happened. Under the previous version, immigrants had their slate wiped clean once the bill passed and had to accrue three new drunken-driving convictions to be deemed inadmissible.
In order to be deported, though, one of the three offenses must happen after the law takes effect.
In another section, the new bill directs that money for high-tech education scholarships go chiefly to women and minorities.
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