Appearing at a public forum Tuesday in Arizona, Sen. John McCain made a pitch for the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in June to provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants. But he cited public support for conditions regarding payment of back taxes and English language acquisition that are not in the bill.
Moreover, the Arizona Republican made another error in defending the E-Verify system, which checks on the legitimacy of Social Security numbers that new workers submit to employers in some jurisdictions.
"Over 70 percent of the people in Arizona and in this country when asked the question: do you believe there should be a path to citizenship for people who pay back taxes, learn English….support it," said McCain. He appeared at the forum with fellow Arizona Senator Jeff Flake.
As my colleague Jon Feere has pointed out, "the bill does not contain a requirement that illegal immigrants pay back taxes for the many years they have been working off the books."
What the bill does require is that an applicant for legal status "has satisfied any applicable Federal tax liability." But it goes on to note that the Senate bill defines satisfaction of that liability as meaning payment of "all federal income taxes assessed" by the IRS.
The problem here is that when much of a person's income is earned under a false name or is simply paid off the books, such a requirement is meaningless. The IRS can't tax phantom income paid to a phantom worker.
On the English language issue, the Senate bill does not require that an applicant for legal status "learn English" in any measurable sense of the term. There is no standard of performance in the bill, no requirement of a test that demonstrates proficiency or any meaningful standard of learning.
What the bill requires is that an applicant for legal status must show that he or she "is satisfactorily pursuing a course of study, pursuant to standards established by the Secretary of Education..., to achieve an understanding of English."
So what the bill requires is movement in the right direction; it doesn't require reaching any meaningful destination.
McCain's E-Verify mistake came in response to a questioner who noted that workers in an Arizona car wash had recently passed their E-Verify check after submitting stolen Social Security numbers.
Such circumvention of the system has become commonplace. As Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) pointed out on the Senate floor in June, a USCIS study "found that an alarming 54 percent of those here illegally were able to pass the current pilot E-Verify program and obtain work authorization."
But McCain offered this erroneous critique of the system: "The latest E-Verify system has a three percent error rate."