- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Fed up with Republican congressional leaders, a group advocating a crackdown on immigration will begin running ads Thursday demanding that House Speaker John A. Boehner allow a vote on legislation requiring businesses to use E-Verify, the government database to check workers’ legal status.

NumbersUSA, the group sponsoring the ads, accused Mr. Boehner and his fellow Republican House leaders of blocking the bill over fears that it will anger Hispanic voters in an election year. But NumbersUSA says enacting the bill — which cleared a key committee in September but has since stalled — would help clear out unauthorized workers and open those jobs for Americans.

“Our gloves are off,” said Roy Beck, executive director of the group, who noted that his organization has pushed for action behind the scenes without success.

He said the group is now ready to take the issue public with radio and television ads designed to force the GOP to choose between politics and American workers.

“At some point, you just have to bring this stuff out into public. We’ve given the leadership all kinds of time, all kinds of excuses, but it’s been six months,” Mr. Beck said.

Immigration is one of the thorniest political issues as the general election in November approaches. Immigrant rights groups have blasted President Obama for failing to move a legalization bill, but NumbersUSA’s decision shows there is just as much frustration on the other side with Republicans, who won control of the House in 2010 while promising to get tough on illegal immigration, but who have not pushed through any major crackdown.

Mr. Beck wouldn’t say how much money would be spent on the ads, which will target various districts that may include Mr. Boehner’s in Ohio.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, blamed the legislative process for the bill’s delay.

“Speaker Boehner has supported legislation with E-Verify in the past, and the issue is currently working its way through the committee process,” Mr. Steel told The Washington Times in an email.

The E-Verify bill, sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, passed out of the Texas Republican’s committee on a 22-13 vote last year and is sitting in the Ways and Means Committee. A spokeswoman for that committee didn’t return a message seeking comment.

Mr. Beck said the blockade is by design and that he has heard from people who said Mr. Boehner told them he won’t take up the bill in an election year.

“Republican House Speaker John Boehner refuses to let the House of Representatives vote on E-Verify,” the group’s radio ad says, telling voters to call Mr. Boehner and demand that he hold a vote on the bill. “If he refuses, ask him why Republicans deserve your vote in November.”

The television ad is similar, urging voters to call Mr. Boehner and ask him why he won’t schedule the legislation.

“Tell him to bring E-Verify up for a vote, or he might not like your vote in November,” the announcer says.

E-Verify, which relies on Social Security numbers, is voluntary for most businesses in the U.S., though a handful of states have enacted laws mandating its use for corporations operating within their jurisdictions. The Supreme Court has upheld Arizona’s version of that law.

Under federal law, all federal agencies and contractors, and all congressional offices, are supposed to use the database.

NumbersUSA wants all businesses to use the system, arguing that it would push out illegal workers and leave those jobs for citizens and legal immigrants.

Mr. Obama’s administration has said he wants E-Verify to be made mandatory, but only as part of an overall legalization of the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.

Meanwhile, three of the four Republican presidential candidates have called for E-Verify to be made mandatory as part of their security-first approach. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is the only one who has rejected the idea, arguing that it would turn businesses into immigration police forces.

Mr. Beck said Republicans should see the issue as a winner, not a political liability. He said Democrats already have enough ammunition to attack Republicans for their stance on cracking down on illegal immigration, and there is little left for the GOP to lose by pushing for E-Verify.

A Washington Times/JZ Analytics Poll released Monday found that Republican primary voters were more than willing to accept the political price for a get-tough approach.

By nearly 4-to-1, 68 percent to 18 percent, likely voters said the GOP should pursue stricter enforcement even if it would cost Republicans the support of Hispanics. That was true for self-identified Republicans and for independents who planned to vote during the GOP primaries.

Opponents say the system is too prone to error, though the Obama administration says it has improved dramatically over the past five years.

Groups that have pressured lawmakers against E-Verify include the National Small Business Association, which sent a letter to House members last year calling the system broken. The association argued that the penalty for failing to use the system — up to 10 years in prison per offense — “is as severe as the punishment for second-degree murder in many states.”

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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