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New Immigration Measures On The Horizon

August 10, 2007

After the Senate’s failure to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill in June, several measures are underway to crack down on illegal immigration, setting the tone for new debate when Congress returns from its summer recess next month.

Today, the Bush administration plans to unveil a broad new initiative that would nearly double the amount of Border Patrol agents, overhaul a temporary worker program for farm labor and require federal contractors to use an employment verification system.

Following guidelines set in a Homeland Security funding bill passed by the Senate last month, the administration is expected to increase Border Patrol personnel to 20,000 agents from its current 12,000.

For contractors looking to do business with the federal government, Homeland Security will ask states to share driver’s license photos and records with a still-fledgling electronic verification system called E-verify. As that system develops, sources familiar with the federal plan say that the administration will encourage states to make more use of E-verify and will allow access to more data sources.

The administration is also planning to overhaul the H2A temporary worker program for farm laborers, which has been criticized by farmers for being too bureaucratic and by immigrant advocates for allowing too many work place abuses.

These efforts come as the Department of Homeland Security plans to introduce tougher standards for businesses that receive "no match letters" – notices saying that a worker’s listed social security number comes up under a different name in government records.

The initiative’s 25 provisions – some new and others that expand on current policies – have been hinted at for weeks by Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, who has warned that the administration would sharpen its enforcement tools on illegal immigration after efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration system failed in the Senate in June.

A draft of the new policy filed in the Federal Register (Docket No. ICEB-2006-0004) states that employers must move to correct discrepancies found in no match letters within 63 days. If that time frame isn’t met, the draft regulation states, the company must either fire the worker or face fines of up to $10,000 per employee.

While supporters of the new policy say it will cut into years of rampant illegal hiring, some business groups and immigrant advocates, have pushed to double the time frame to 123 days, charging that the DHS' proposed time frame is unreasonable, due to errors in government databases and slow government bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, federal records show that arrests from workplace raids have skyrocketed to nearly 4,000 so far this year from about 845 in 2004; and arrests of illegal immigrants have risen to approximately 685 per week, double the number from last year.

When Congress resumes session next month, it will also consider the Immigration Enforcement and Border Security Act (S. 1984) introduced last week by Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Az.), John McCain (R-Az.), Jeff Sessions (R Ala.), Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.)

Among the bill’s 72 provisions are:

A call for more resources for border security, in addition to the $3 billion in appropriations recently approved for the DHS.

Plans for a new employee verification system that would build on the DHS’ "Basic Pilot Program" currently used by some 16,000 employers.

New Social Security cards that include photographs.

A $1.5 billion "state records improvement grant program" that issues driver’s licenses and identity cards in compliance with the REAL ID Act.

Streamlining proceedings for the deportation of illegal immigrants, with 45,000 new detention beds, 300 miles of vehicle barriers, more border patrol agents, more fencing and new technology for spotting immigrants attempting to cross the border.