House panel asks congressional budget office to score immigration bill

The House Judiciary Committee has asked the Congressional Budget Office to assess the cost of an immigration enforcement bill sponsored by Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., which will likely place a hefty pay/go barrier in its path to the House floor. House Republicans are attempting to force the bill to the floor through a discharge petition, but they are more than 30 signatures short of the 218 needed.

The bill would require at least a tenfold expansion of a voluntary electronic system by mandating that all employers verify their employees' work authorization within four years. Critics of the voluntary program, called E-verify, say the databases used by the Homeland Security Department and the Social Security Administration are rife with errors and predict the system would crash if employers were to ask for verification for the nation's workforce.

"There's no precedent for building a system this large," said CATO Institute Director of Immigration Policy Jim Harper, who estimates that such a system would have to process at least 11,000 employees a day to keep up with new hires. Shuler's bill would devote new government resources to costly border patrol activities, including additional personnel and equipment. Because it contains no revenue-raising provisions such as visa fees, the money for those expansions would need to come from general funds.

Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee ranking member Lamar Smith, R-Texas, has signed the discharge petition on Shuler's bill and said E-verify was a good idea. He said employers who dislike E-verify are the same ones who complained about the current system of collecting new hires' documents that may or may not be valid.

E-verify changes that. "No one can say it doesn't work. ... It really doesn't take very much time," Smith said. "Here's a chance to do it right, and suddenly, it's inconvenient."

Smith pointed to the administration's claims last year that a mandatory E-verify system could be operational within 18 months. "The administration says they can ramp up, and it's important to spend the money to do it right," he said. Democrats are not nearly as confident about the administration's ability to accurately verify workers' eligibility.

Aides and advocates say the SSA and Homeland Security error rate among foreign-born nationals approaches 20 percent. People who want to fix inaccuracies in their SSA information sometimes have to wait over a year for their cases to be resolved because of staffing shortages.

SSA's lack of resources and its database errors also has become a major focus for employers hoping to stop Homeland Security from issuing a rule requiring them to fire any workers who cannot resolve mismatches between their names and Social Security numbers.

Earlier this week, Homeland Security re-issued the "no-match" rule that was stayed by a court last fall. Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., is hoping the court will continue barring implementation of the new rule, but an aide said she is prepared to step in with legislation to halt the rule if the court lifts its injunction.

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