- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 6, 2005

A senior House Republican yesterday called for an improved Social Security card to prevent illegal immigrants from gaining jobs and for quintupling the penalty for those who employ them, marking the first major shot in the immigration debate expected to take place in this Congress.

Another Republican committee chairman, meanwhile, is set to introduce a bill that would include some of the measures like national standards for driver’s licenses that were dropped from the intelligence overhaul bill that passed Congress late last year, but which House leaders have promised to attach to the first must-pass piece of legislation this session.

Even as President Bush has renewed his call for action on the guest-worker program he proposed nearly a year ago, top Republicans in Congress seem to be moving toward stronger enforcement as their answer to the level of illegal immigration.

Under the new bill sponsored by Rep. David Dreier, California Republican and the chairman of the House Rules Committee, anyone applying for a job would have to get a new Social Security card with their photograph and biometric information on it. Employers would be required to verify a job applicant’s legal status. Employers who violate the law would be fined $50,000 per instance, five times the current penalty, and the bill calls for hiring 10,000 new Homeland Security Department investigators to enforce the law.

Mr. Dreier said he first began working on this issue in the 1990s, but was a minority in his own party in pushing for the checks. Now, after September 11, he said that’s changed.

“I believe the stars are aligned to where we can in fact put into place a counterproof Social Security card,” he said. A companion bill will be introduced by Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican.

Mr. Dreier wrote the bill with the help of T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents 11,000 non-supervisory Border Patrol agents nationwide. Mr. Bonner has estimated that cutting the supply of jobs could reduce illegal immigration by 98 percent, and also could help force those here illegally to go home.

“This is the other side of the Field of Dreams. If you build it, they will come; if you tear it down, they will go away,” Mr. Bonner said.

That is just one of a flurry of immigration bills expected this month. Another bill introduced by Rep. Ken Calvert, California Republican, on Tuesday, the first day Congress was in session, would expand the voluntary pilot program that currently allows employers to verify an employee’s legal status. It would be made mandatory and phased in over seven years.

Meanwhile, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, later this month will introduce the package of immigration security measures that was dropped from the intelligence overhaul bill. It would require anyone obtaining a driver’s license in the United States to prove they are here lawfully, would allow judges more latitude in deciding asylum cases, would allow for easier deportation of terrorists deemed inadmissible to the country and would close a three-mile hole in the U.S.-Mexico border fence near San Diego.

The measure got a boost on Tuesday from House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, who while opening the 109th session of Congress said the House must act to “fill those gaps” in existing law.

He has promised to attach Mr. Sensenbrenner’s bill to the first “must-pass” piece of legislation Congress addresses this year — likely an emergency spending measure to aid tsunami victims or an emergency spending bill to fund ongoing military operations in Iraq.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, hasn’t made a similar promise, said a spokeswoman, though Mr. Frist has said he will look at the legislation.

Mr. Dreier said he doesn’t expect his bill to be attached to Mr. Sensenbrenner’s bill, since his measure would need to go through the committee process. He said instead it should be part of a broader debate of Mr. Bush’s plan for guest workers.

The president has promised to spend political capital pushing for his proposal to create a renewable three-year guest-worker visa that would allow those now living abroad and illegal aliens already here to apply.

Opponents to Mr. Dreier’s bill already are lining up, with the American Civil Liberties Union saying the new Social Security card amounts to a national ID — something that riles some in both the conservative and liberal camps.

“It’s a card, it’s national, and it’s designed to prove your identity. How can it not be a nation ID card?” said Tim Edgar, legislative counsel for the ACLU.

In response to Mr. Dreier, who said the new card would specifically say, “This is not a national ID card,” Mr. Edgar said, “I think it’s an example of how, unfortunately, some Republicans have abandoned their libertarian principles because of their zeal to attack immigrants, and are simply forced to make silly statements in order to pretend that they haven’t.”

Meanwhile, Joanna Hedvall, an analyst for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said Mr. Dreier’s proposal would only compound the problems that already exist with the voluntary employee verification system that exists now. She said the Social Security system already has a backlog for issuing cards, and said the Homeland Security Department’s employee verification is riddled with errors.

“The information in their own databases is not accurate, and the information is not transmitted to the Social Security Administration in an expedient manner,” she said.

Several opponents said employer sanctions, first introduced in the immigration overhaul and amnesty bill that passed in 1986, have been tried but found lacking, arguing that Congress should instead try to write an immigration system that matches the economic situation.

But Rep. Silvestre Reyes, Texas Democrat and a former U.S. Border Patrol sector chief, who is co-sponsoring Mr. Dreier’s bill, said the problem after 1986 was a lack of manpower to enforce the employer sanctions.

“They worked, and they worked well in the areas where we had personnel to enforce them,” he said.

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