House Democrats on Wednesday succeeded in removing an agricultural waiver from an immigration bill that would require employers to electronically check that workers are legal, a change that could halt the forward movement of the legislation. The legislation has been the subject of intense interest from business and labor alike.
The removal of the waiver will make it all but impossible for the E-Verify bill to make its way through the Senate, even if House leaders manage to muster the votes to pass it in that chamber. Without a waiver, half to three-quarters of the agricultural laborers in the United States would be unable to work, halting the industry's ability to function. Growers are the only business group that haven't signed off on the E-Verify requirement. Other businesses have said they are willing to go along with it because it would preempt state laws.
With the help of five Republicans, the House Judiciary Committee approved an amendment, 19-12, removing a three-year waiver for the agriculture industry. The three-year delay of the verification requirement was Republicans' answer to the business community's fears that the new E-Verify requirement would decimate the agriculture industry, which relies heavily on undocumented workers.
Rep. Howard Berman (Calif.) offered the amendment to remove the waiver, calling it a major loophole in the bill that aims to make sure employers aren't hiring illegal workers. Berman has been negotiating on behalf of farm workers for 11 years to pass an 'AgJOBS' bill that would create a path to citizenship for undocumented farm workers who agree to work picking fruit or harvesting vegetables for several years. That bill has been rejected by Republicans as amnesty.
Democrats noted that the waiver in the E-Verify bill is its own amnesty for growers who are employing undocumented workers now. The accusation clearly hit home with Republicans who supported the amendment -Reps. Steve King (Iowa), Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.), Louie Gohmert (Texas) and Ted Poe (Texas). Rep. Elton Gallegly (Calif.) originally voted against the amendment but changed his vote to 'yes' when it became clear Republicans didn't have the votes to defeat it.
The waiver's removal shows the cracks among Republicans on immigration legislation beyond simple border security and indicates that the biggest change to immigration law since 1996 may be in trouble before it even hits the House floor, where it was expected to pass without difficulty.
Reprinted in part from National Journal Daily