By Mike Lillis - 09/17/11 06:05 PM EDT
A growing chorus of conservatives is hammering a Republican proposal requiring businesses to verify the legal status of the workers they hire.
The conservative critics – including Republican lawmakers, Tea Party groups and border-state governors – are airing a long string of complaints: From fears the bill will erode civil liberties; to worries it will harm the agriculture industry; to concerns that it simply won't work.
At a Thursday markup of the House bill, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) said the proposal would "devastate" agriculture in his state.
"If we do not recognize the demonstrated need for foreign workers – and I am talking about temporary foreign workers in our agricultural fields – we are kidding ourselves," he added. "Anybody who suggests that we can do it with American workers, with all due respect, does not understand agriculture in America today."
Tea Party groups are also panning the proposal. On Thursday, a number of those organizations – including the the Republican Liberty Caucus, the Liberty Coalition and Take Back Washington – wrote to every member of Congress warning that the bill "poses a threat to both the Constitution and every law-abiding citizen of this country."
The groups said the bill jeopardizes small businesses with expensive new paperwork burdens, violates individuals' rights to work and establishes "a de facto national I.D. system – even for citizens."
"The dangerous and intrusive precedent set by the bill opens the floodgate of additional incursive and contentious employment verification hurdles. Mission creep is the signature of all bureaucracies," the groups wrote.
"After enactment of the Legal Workforce Act, employers could soon be required to verify whether employees are delinquent in the payment of federal, state, or local taxes, in compliance with child support or alimony decrees, on a terrorist watch list, or convicted or even accused of crime."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a leading contender for the GOP presidential nomination, has also attacked E-verify, saying last year that it “would not make a hill of beans’ difference in what’s happening today."
Sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the legislation would force all employers to screen prospective hires through a Homeland Security Department database to weed out those in the country illegally.
"Twenty‐three million Americans are unemployed or cannot find full‐time work. At the same time, seven million people are working illegally," Smith said Thursday. "These jobs should go to American citizens and legal workers."
Immigration rights groups have used the conservative criticism to pounce on Smith's proposal.
"Assuming Smith does muscle his bill out of his own committee, the real question is, what will Speaker Boehner do?" Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an advocacy group, said Friday in a statement.
"Does he really want to bring forward legislation that divides the right, hurts small business, decimates agriculture, and embarrasses the party’s leading Presidential candidate?"
The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to finish marking up the legislation next Wednesday.
An earlier version of this story noted that the Kitchen Table Patriots also endorsed the Tea Party letter. That group says it supports Smith's e-verify bill, and never gave permission for its name to be attached to the letter.