What started as a briefing for Capitol Hill staffers on the Legal Workforce Act turned into a screaming match over illegal immigration. The bill would require all U.S. workers to verify their legal status with an electronic database.
The session featured a spectrum of opponents to E-Verify, including think tanks that represented libertarians and progressives, and small business groups. Speakers called the database a flawed system rife with errors.
David Burton of the National Small Business Administration warned staffers that voters will be angry when data falsely labels some people as ineligible to work. "All those people are not going just hold it against you, they’re going to be extraordinarily upset at the politicians that passed that law," Burton explained.
Chris Calabrese of the American Civil Liberties Union said the errors fall disproportionately on foreign-born workers. "So naturalized citizens, for example, are 30 times more likely to receive an erroneous, tentative non-confirmation, that early mismatch step, than are the native born," Calabrese said.
Andrea Loving, a staffer for Texas Republican Lamar Smith, asked whether the panel had talked to the staff involved with the E-verify bill. She also challenged the panelists’ numbers. Smith, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is the author of the Legal Workforce Act.
She was joined in the exchange by Rosemary Jenks of NumbersUSA, an advocacy group that favors slowing immigration. It quickly turned into a shouting match that lasted several minutes.
Jenks told the panel "the reason that the American people want E-Verify and oppose illegal immigration is because of the rule of law. It’s illegal. If I do something wrong, I go to jail, I get penalized. If I get a speeding ticket, I have to pay it!"
At that point, one panelist jumped in, saying, "this is the best panel I have ever attended!"
The audience applauded in agreement.
The E-Verify bill, which has passed the House Judiciary Committee, gives businesses up to two years to comply with the law and carries both civil fines and criminal penalties. Now it’s up to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to schedule a vote on the measure for the full House of Representatives.
Correction: This article originally misattributed Rosemary Jenks' quote to Andrea Loving. We thank our commenters for bringing the error to our attention.