Senate and House conferees removed a controversial provision from the economic stimulus package that would have required companies to verify the immigration status of their workers.
The decision to strip the measure was hailed by pro-business and pro-immigrant groups, but left fuming those who advocate stricter enforcement of immigration laws.
But in a separate move, conferees kept in the final bill a Senate provision that would restrict the ability of companies receiving federal bailout funds from hiring highly skilled foreign workers, according to congressional aides and industry officials.
Conferees did not retain language in the House-passed version of the stimulus bill that would have required companies to use the so-called E-Verify system, an online tool that employers can use to check Homeland Security and Social Security databases to verify an employee is legally authorized to work in the country. The Senate's version of the stimulus bill did not include such a provision. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce led lobbying efforts to kill the provision, and was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups.
"Removing the problematic employment verification provision from the economic stimulus package will help unemployed Americans get back to work," said Caroline Fredrickson, the ACLU's top Washington lobbyist. "E-Verify is known to create significant delays in hiring new employees, a consequence our economy and American workers should not have to suffer in such difficult economic times."
But House Judiciary ranking member Lamar Smith, R-Texas, called the decision to remove the E-Verify requirement "outrageous" and "a gross disservice" to U.S. citizens and legal immigrant workers. "It is a simple matter of accountability," Smith said. "If the goal is to create jobs and stimulate the American economy, then is it too much to ask that the jobs go to U.S. citizens and legal immigrant workers?" Smith pointed to an analysis from the conservative Heritage Foundation that the stimulus bill would create jobs for about 300,000 undocumented workers without the E-Verify requirement.
The bill's other immigration-related provision would place limits on any company receiving funds under the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program from hiring skilled foreign workers under the H-1B visa program. That provision, added by Senate Finance ranking member Charles Grassley and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is primarily intended to prevent financial institutions from replacing laid off workers with foreigners. Companies would still be able to hire workers through the H-1B program. But they must actively recruit U.S. workers and cannot allow foreigners to displace Americans in the workforce.