Some conservative groups are protesting a bill championed by House Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-Texas) that would compel all employers to use the government-run E-verify system to ensure they are only hiring legal workers.
The bill passed out of committee Wednesday. Republican lawmakers were not swayed by a letter from Tea Party Nation, GOProud and 25 other libertarian, tea party and conservative groups arguing that the law will compel "employers to become enforcement agents of the federal government" and infringe on job applicants' civil liberties. The program checks Social Security numbers against a government database to ensure job applicants haven't forged their documentation.
Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips told the Wall Street Journal that he believes "it's not private enterprise's job to enforce immigration." The Republican Liberty Caucus, the Liberty Coalition and the Kitchen Table Patriots also signed on to the letter. But missing from the list are the Tea Party Nation and the Tea Party Express, which are the largest and most influential tea party groups. The Lookout has asked spokesmen for both groups whether they also oppose E-verify, but neither has responded yet. In general, the tea party is staunchly opposed to illegal immigration, but the libertarian wing of the movement also balks at anything resembling a national ID program.
Rep. Smith delayed another dust-up over the bill by exempting agricultural workers from E-Verify for the first three years. At least 70 percent of the nation's farmworkers are estimated to be illegal immigrants, and farmers criticize the national agricultural guest-worker system as too pricey and bureaucratic to use.
According to the Wall Street Journal, about 4 percent of all employers use E-Verify now voluntarily. Smith argues that the bill will prevent illegal immigrants from taking jobs that should go to American citizens or legal immigrants. Critics of the bill say it places an undue financial burden on small businesses. They also argue that legal workers will be wrongly flagged by the system and could lose their jobs. (E-Verify's error rate is less than 1 percent.) More than a dozen states mandate that some or all businesses use E-verify.
Update: The Kitchen Table Patriots' Immigration Policy Director, Mariann Davies, tells The Lookout that they have asked to be removed from the letter. She says the organization only opposes that the E-Verify law mentions "pre-emption," which means the federal government's immigration law trumps state law.