Press attention on yesterday's Senate debate has focused on the battle over the amendment proposed by John Cornyn to tighten border security metrics. It is an important discussion that will continue for some time. But I was more impressed with the strong performance of Ohio Republican Rob Portman in exposing the problems with the Gang of Eight's proposal for a new E-Verify system.
Portman showed not only a command of the issues, but also a determination to improve the system in order to avoid future waves of illegal immigration. He issued a clear but diplomatic challenge to the previous day's glib assurances by Chuck Schumer that the E-Verify system specified in the bill would make it "impossible" for illegal immigrants to find work in the United States.
"I am concerned that the legislation will not provide the country with a lasting, workable solution," Portman said. Summarizing the underlying challenge, he noted that because about 40 percent of illegal immigrants enter the country legally and then overstay their visas, "you're not going to solve that problem at the border." He added that "we have to deal with the jobs magnet, which is why people are coming here."
Here are some excerpts from Portman's remarks, which set the stage for what will be important debate in the days to come.
- "I believe the E-Verify system contemplated by this legislation falls short but can be improved. … The bill mandates nationwide E-Verify implementation while doing little to address the fundamental flaws we've seen in E-Verify. There's a recent study that estimates that E-Verify has an error rate for unauthorized workers of 54 percent. That means half the folks who are not authorized to work who go thru E-Verify are able to be qualified anyway."
- "We have to do more to strengthen the protections against the fraudulent use of identifiers, particularly the Social Security card. And we need to improve individuals' data privacy protections."
- "The proposal before us attempts to address some of these problems through what's called a photo-matching tool. This tool is designed to allow employers to compare a digital photograph from the E-Verify system with the photo on a new hire's passport, immigration document ,or driver's license. Unfortunately, the verification system doesn't have access to photos for more than 60 percent of U.S. residents who do not have a U.S. passport or an immigration document, making the photo matching ineffective. The current legislation therefore relies on the states to give the Department of Homeland Security access to driver's license records on a voluntary basis. There is no assurance that all or even most states will choose to participate in this. Past experience with what's called the Real ID Act would indicate that fewer than half of the states will comply."
- "I think more could be done to make this bill work better, and I'm committed to try to do that."