Bank on the SAVE Act for Immigration Reform

The flavor-of-the-month immigration bill comes from a Democrat, North Carolina’s Heath Shuler and his bill, HR 4088, entitled the “Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement Act of 2007” or “SAVE Act.” (The text of the bill is available HERE, and other information HERE.)

Shuler’s bill has three key parts. According to Shuler’s press release on the bill, these are “a strict emphasis on border security, employer verification, and interior enforcement.” No provision is made for amnesty for illegal aliens, which is why the House Democratic leadership views this bill as welcome as a case of smallpox.

Within border security, it increases the number of full-time active-duty Border Patrol agents by 8,000 over 5 years. It also requires cooperation between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense to allow more technology and military equipment such as unmanned aerial vehicles to be used along the border. Other aspects of the border security section include:

• Ensuring that agents have “high-quality body armor that is appropriate for the climate and risks faced by the agent.”

• “Strengthening prosecution and punishment of alien smugglers.”

• Adding uniformed officers to other Federal agencies which have jurisdiction over border areas, including the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service, and

• Making grants to local sheriff’s offices in jurisdictions that are within 25 miles of the border to help offset their costs of enforcing immigration laws.

“Employer Verification” involves changing participation in the “E-Verify” program from being optional to being mandatory over four years, with large employers (over 250 employees) having to participate immediately and smaller employers phasing in during that four year period. According to the US Customs and Immigration Service web site, “E-Verify provides an automated link to federal databases to help employers determine employment eligibility of new hires and the validity of their Social Security numbers. Employers will have to “E-Verify” current employees within 4 years, not just future employees. 

Under the SAVE act, if a worker’s name and Social Security number given to the employer do not match what is in the database, the employee must correct the problem within 10 days or “the employer will be required to terminate their employment.” The Social Security Administration will also notify employers of any people who are using a Social Security number that is already in use.

And in the category of “Interior Enforcement,” Shuler’s bill would authorize the hiring of 1,150 additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) agents and 140 Criminal Alien Program (“CAP”) officers. Other provisions include:

• Providing for “the training of a minimum of 250 State and local law enforcement officers in Federal immigration law enforcement procedure.” 

• Creating a “rewards program” to offer cash rewards for anyone offering information or testimony leading to the arrest or conviction of someone committing “commercial alien smuggling” or making or selling fraudulent documents (i.e. passports, driver’s licenses, green cards, Social Security cards).

• Authorizing the hiring of new federal district judges in border states, and

• Creating a “multilingual media campaign” to inform the public of these changes in policy.

The bill has 147 cosponsors from more than half the states, including 49 Democrats…not enough to force a floor vote on the measure over the objection of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Shuler, who defeated an 8-term incumbent Republican in 2006, is a member of the “Blue Dog Coalition”, a group of relatively conservative Democrats, more than half of whose 48 members cosponsored the SAVE Act. 

None of the Blue Dogs’ 7 members from from California were cosponsors and only one member of the House Hispanic Caucus, Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX), jumped on board.  Some interesting facts from NumbersUSA:  About 42% of freshmen House members of both parties were original cosponsors, and “52% of Democrats who defeated a Republican incumbent last year are original co-sponsors.”

Despite having substantial bipartisan support, Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership oppose the measure and have been working to keep it from coming to a floor vote.  Supporters of Shuler’s bill began a “discharge petition” which requires 218 signatures to force a vote. To date the petition has received 185 signatures. While about 75 more Republicans have signed the petition than joined as cosponsors, only 10 of the 49 Democrat cosponsors have signed the petition, a showing with two strong implications: First, some of them want to say they are tough on immigration without ever actually having to cast a tough vote. Second, even many of the conservative Democrats who want real progress on the immigration issue are hesitant to go against the party’s pro-amnesty leadership.

Darren Pudgil, spokesman for Congressman Brian Bilbray, one of the leading Republican supporters of the SAVE Act, offered this take on the situation: “This is the only opportunity we’ll have this year to pass immigration reform. If all the cosponsors sign the discharge petition, we’ll at least be able to have this important discussion.” Keeping the math simple, Mr. Pudgil noted that if 33 of the 41 members who cosponsored the bill but have not yet signed the petition were to sign it, the bill would come to a vote. 

The only Republican cosponsor of the measure who has not signed the discharge petition is Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). Her spokesman, Jonathan Coffin, offered this comment to Human Events: “Since coming to Congress, the Congresswoman has made it a long-standing policy not to sign any discharge petitions — whether she’s been in the Majority or Minority Party — out of a belief in the traditional rules of the House….The Congresswoman stands firmly behind the bill…(and) she will continue to advocate on behalf of the SAVE Act to ensure that it is brought before the full House.  This initiative exemplifies real bipartisan cooperation; it deserves the support of Democratic leaders who should listen to the members of their own caucus who’ve authored this bill and called for its passage.”

A new wrinkle in SAVE Act politics occurred when Congressman Shuler, addressing a Rotary Club meeting last week, accused Senator John McCain of calling House Republicans and asking them not to sign the discharge petition. News reports say that McCain’s office denies those accusations, but Senator McCain’s office did not return calls for additional comment. Congressman Bilbray’s spokesman declined to offer an opinion as to whether the SAVE Act would pass if it received a vote…a wise non-prediction during a presidential election year, particularly when the Republican candidate is so mired in the immigration issue.

Senator McCain might believe that the passage of an immigration bill with strong enforcement provisions would be a net political negative for him, so it would not be a major surprise if he did indeed try to keep the SAVE Act stuck in the Congressional swamp. If John McCain is indeed opposing the bill (and for now I will accept his office’s denials), he’d do well to make sure he does it behind closed doors. If he thinks that conservatives are wavering about supporting him now, proven reports of his interfering in the passage of the SAVE Act could be politically devastating.

Another threat to the SAVE Act is from Congressman Joe Baca (D-CA), Chairman of the House Hispanic Caucus, who is rumored to have an amendment ready to propose which would give a “five-year temporary worker permit” to illegal aliens who have not committed a crime (other than being here illegally.) Congressman Shuler has reportedly rebuffed attempts by Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emmanuel (D-Ill.) to broker a “compromise” including similar amnesty provisions.

The SAVE Act is the best opportunity in recent memory to pass real immigration reform. It may be possible to get it to a floor vote over the objections of the amnesty-oriented Nancy Pelosi, and possibly without ruinous amendments, but if John McCain is quietly opposing the bill as well, it has a much tougher road ahead.