Two recently introduced bills on Capitol Hill give a strong indication of how hard the road ahead during the 112th Congress will be for proponents of comprehensive immigration reform.
Coming fresh off a stinging lame duck session DREAM Act defeat, new immigration enforcement legislation initiated by a House Democrat and a House Republican prove that Congress has radically shifted away from amnesty and toward ending abuses like employment for illegal aliens and automatic birthright citizenship.
Representative Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., a pro-environment senior member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, understands the negative effect of high immigration levels on sustainability. His Electronic Employment Eligibility Verification and Illegal Immigration Control Act would make E-Verify mandatory. DeFazio wants to prevent illegal immigrants from competing with millions of unemployed Americans for scarce jobs.
The latest Department of Homeland Security statistics confirm what a useful tool the program is in identifying illegal immigrant workers. According to DHS, 97 percent of legally authorized employees receive an automatic confirmation within 24 hours and require no further action. Of the 2.6 percent who receive tentative non-confirmations, 0.3 percent are eventually cleared. The balance are not legally authorized to work in the United States.
Another House bill, this one Republican, is picking up steam. Iowa Rep. Steve King introduced the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2011 shortly after the new Congress convened. As of March 2, it has 68 co-sponsors, many of them newly elected and who campaigned on eliminating illegal immigration.
King's bill would amend the current U.S. code to require at least one parent to be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident in order for a newborn to receive automatic citizenship. The Fourteenth Amendment grants Congress the power to enforce and define its provisions, including the interpretation of "subject to the jurisdiction thereof," the controversial language that many insist excludes the children of foreign nationals.
The two House bills along with Sen. Orrin Hatch's pending legislation that would eliminate the Diversity Visa and tighten up 287 (g), which authorizes the federal government to work with state and local law enforcement agencies to, when appropriate, detain immigration offenders, signal a new mood in Washington.
Politics is first and foremost about winning, and enforcement is clearly a winning political issue. As Capitol Hill transitions toward more enforcement, a dust-up could develop between Democrats and Republicans as to which party is the more committed to restricting illegal immigration. Both sides can correctly claim that their crackdowns help struggling American workers, and that by insisting on E-Verfiy they each are, therefore, the people's party.
As House Judiciary Committee chair Lamar Smith said in January: "With 26 million Americans unemployed or underemployed, expanding E-Verify would open up jobs that they need." To date, only 11 percent of the nation's 7.7 million employers use the program.
A recent example of E-Verify's value is headline news. The Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., which didn't avail itself of E-Verify, has had to fire hundreds of illegal alien workers in Minnesota and will likely dismiss hundreds more as the government's investigation of the fast-food chain expands into 60 Virginia and Washington, D.C. restaurants.
More firings at other industries will follow. According to sources at the Department of Homeland Security, the federal government has asked about 1,000 companies to turn over their employment records for review as part of an expanded Obama administration effort to thwart hiring illegal immigrants.
None of these enforcement victories will come easily. But politics is also about momentum. The DHS effort must have the tacit blessing of the White House which, seeing the inevitable trend toward enforcement, may be enhancing its 2012 resume.
Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. He lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.