The House Republican immigration-enforcement bill will include a measure aimed directly at ensuring that employers are taking steps to hire legal workers — going a step further than the White House has gone in targeting businesses.
The bill, which Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin is expected to introduce today, calls on employers to check documents submitted by new employees against a database to verify their authenticity.
“This is the one thing you can really do that really will work,” said Rep. Ken Calvert, a California Republican who has been fighting for the provisions for years. “You’re not picking one group of people or another group of people. All you’re doing is checking the validity of a Social Security card — I don’t know how anybody can be against that.”
Named the Basic Pilot Program, it began in the mid-1990s as a voluntary system for employers in a handful of states to check prospective employees’ Social Security numbers. In 2003, it was expanded nationwide, but it is still voluntary. Mr. Sensenbrenner’s bill would make it a requirement.
Mr. Sensenbrenner, who as committee chairman is writing the bill, will call on employers to recheck the documents of all employees hired within the past six years. Mr. Calvert’s version does not.
Mr. Sensenbrenner yesterday said his bill would be the beginning of “a serious interior immigration enforcement effort.”
His bill also would increase penalties for human trafficking and would adopt provisions from a bill sponsored by Rep. John Culberson, Texas Republican, that would authorize and fund efforts by sheriffs in border counties to go after illegal aliens.
“This legislation will demand that people follow the law and be held accountable for their actions,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said.
President Bush last week took credit for expanding the Basic Pilot Program, but he did not call for it to become mandatory. Workplace enforcement is one area where Republicans are openly critical of Mr. Bush, saying he cannot hope to solve the immigration problem without improvement in that area.
Work site arrests of illegal aliens have fallen every year of his administration, from 953 in 2000 to 159 in 2004. And last year, the federal government issued just three notices of intent to fine companies for employing illegal aliens, down from 178 in 2000.
Business groups have questioned whether the system can work, and they and immigration-rights advocates say it sometimes returns a flag even on a U.S. citizen.
They also want to see a broader bill that includes a guest-worker program and legalizes most of the current illegal alien population, saying an enforcement-only approach won’t work.
Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said she thinks Mr. Sensenbrenner would have preferred to write a broader bill. That makes her optimistic that in the next Congress the House will take up a comprehensive bill that includes guest-worker provisions.
“It would be a mistake to think this is his bottom line, and he can go no further,” she said.
If the bill passes the committee this week, it could be on the floor next week, and some Republicans are already lobbying for leaders to allow floor votes on a series of amendments. Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and chairman of the 92-member Immigration Reform Caucus, said this is the first opportunity in nearly a decade to have such a broad immigration debate.
“It could not have come at a more critical time for the country,” he said, urging broad rules for the floor debate. “This opportunity is too important and too rare to take ideas off the table.”