Congress takes on immigrant work bills

Father Tom Joyce CMF| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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There has been little expectation of any significant immigration reform out of this Congress, but two relatively modest measures have been introduced that have some possibility of success and even may avoid a presidential veto. It’s still too early to know how far they will go.

The first is the Legal Workforce Act introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R, TX). Long the ranking Republican on Judiciary’s Immigration Subcommittee, Smith is not unknown for his friendliness toward immigrants. He thinks there too many of them. This measure seeks to take advantage of the Supreme Court decision upholding Arizona’s employer sanction bill.

Arizona’s bill penalizes employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. The state rescinds the firm’s license to do business. It also adds a requirement that employers check the status of workers through the federal government’s E-Verify system, a computerized data base developed by the Social Security Administration with additions from Homeland Security. Critics charge that E-Verify is replete with errors and has created misery for qualified workers.

Still Smith thinks it would work wonders, restoring jobs to those unemployed by the recession and throwing out the undeserving. He would make the E-Verify universal to all workers, requiring employers to submit the names of all hires, whether undocumented or documented. The bill certainly will get out of committee and on to the House floor—maybe not this year, but probably before the presidential election. A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Charles Grassley (R, IA). There its prospects are not good.

The other bill came from a more immigrant friendly source – Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D, CA) who like Smith has a long history on the House Immigration Committee as chair and ranking member. This bills aims to enable immigrant students and entrepreneurs to get “green cards,” documents to work legally with possibility of permanent residence. Thousands of talented foreign students come to this country to be educated. Many seek employment after graduation. Others come to this country to invest and so create American jobs. The IDEA Act (Immigration Driving Entrepreneurship in America Act) would ease the way.

Rep. Lofgren represents much of Silicon Valley and knows whereof she speaks. She catalogues the contributions of immigrants to establishing start-up firms that have become household words – Intel, Google, Yahoo, eBay. Fifty-two percent of Silicon Valley companies were either founded or co-founded by an immigrant.

The bill would reform the controversial H-1B program which is unfair to high-skilled immigrant and native-born workers. The IDEA Act also has a good chance of a hearing in Congress, especially since it focuses on creating American jobs. But it will not be entirely acceptable to some American skilled workers who have seen the H-1B used to undercut their employment or pay. The New York Times also reports that it may benefit some of the students who would have benefited from the Dream Act.