HIAS Calls on Congress to Reject Flawed Proposals

Posted on Mon, Mar 24, 2008 at 9:29 am

by Gideon Aronoff, President & CEO

As the nation’s leading migration arm of the Jewish community, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) continues to call for effective, fair, and humane immigration laws that balance the need to provide immigrants seeking freedom the opportunity to build a better life with the need to protect our homeland and national security interests. Regrettably, the Save America through Verification and Enforcement Act (SAVE Act, H.R. 4088) introduced by Representatives Heath Shuler (D-NC), Tom Tancredo (R-CO), and Brian Bilbray (R-CA) and the New Employee Verification Act (H.R. 5515) introduced by Representative Sam Johnson (R-TX) are flawed proposals that undermine efforts to achieve practical, workable, and compassionate solutions towards these goals. HIAS opposes these measures and efforts to rush these pieces of legislation through using parliamentary devices, such as discharge petitions. These proposals rely on broken federal databases to institute an unproven mandatory electronic employment eligibility verification system and unrealistically require that the system be implemented by all U.S. employers in just three to four years.

Rather than comprehensively addressing the problems with our immigration laws, the SAVE Act heaps more dysfunction on a broken system by increasing spending on imperfect border security, allocating additional taxpayer dollars to prosecution and removal of needed workers, and fortifying a system that does not effectively and realistically address the growing undocumented population. By expanding the existing Basic Pilot employment verification system without first resolving its many well-documented flaws, the SAVE Act places the jobs of an estimated 12.7 million U.S. citizens, whose information appears in the database incorrectly, in jeopardy.

Although Rep. Johnson’s bill includes small steps toward addressing database errors, it does not require that any accuracy standards be met before the system is expanded to all U.S. employers. In addition, the Johnson bill also takes the radical step of putting the Social Security Administration in charge of the system at a time when the agency is already struggling to respond to its existing mandates.

Also troubling are provisions that grant local law enforcement officials the authority to carry out civil immigration enforcement responsibilities. By authorizing local officials to spend time making immigration status determinations, police have less time to focus on serious crimes and protecting communities. In addition, effectively deputizing local law enforcement officials as federal immigration agents creates an atmosphere of fear and suspicion, undercutting relationships between police and communities.

The bill also calls for the construction of 8,000 more detention spaces. Last year, taxpayers paid over $1.2 billion to detain more than 260,000 individuals and families. About half of all immigrants held in detention have no criminal record. The detention of so many individuals who pose no threat to society is a costly, inhumane, and unnecessary practice.

Recently supporters of the SAVE Act announced they would attempt to gather the 218 votes needed for a “discharge petition,” which would allow proponents to bypass the committee process and move the bill directly to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote. Rushing to enact legislation that has not been thoroughly vetted as part of the committee process would negatively affect millions of workers – including U.S. citizens – without an opportunity for real debate, a chance to sufficiently consider the bill’s merits and drawbacks, or the option to add any needed amendments.

Recalling our religious and ethical Jewish teachings, the Torah’s commandment to “love the stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt” takes on an especial relevance. Today’s newcomers – whether economic migrants, refugees, or individuals seeking to be reunited with their families – face many of the same challenges our grandparents and great-grandparents faced years ago. How we choose to respond to these newcomers will say a great deal about who we are as individuals, as a community, and as a country. We believe America is based on justice and the rule of law, but also compassion and dignity. Policies that undermine these attributes also fundamentally undermine our national identity. Congress must take forward-looking action that will maintain our status as a country that continues to welcome the stranger.

In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform, we are seeing more and more immigrant communities threatened, a rise in anti-immigrant and hate rhetoric, and an increase in fraudulent and inhumane worksite raids and home invasions in which families are separated unnecessarily and immigrants are denied basic rights and unlawfully detained. HIAS recognizes the need to repair our current immigration system on a national level. However, neither the SAVE Act nor the New Employee Verification Act would solve these problems.

HIAS strongly opposes the SAVE Act and calls on Congress instead to enact legislation that truly will secure our borders, protect our economy and its workers, address the estimated 12 million undocumented living in this country, reform our family-based immigration system, and reduce waiting periods for families to be reunited. Only by providing an effective, fair, and comprehensive national solution can we maintain our American tradition as a welcoming nation.