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Republicans agree to some changes to border bill for farmers

GOP leaders wrangle support ahead of planned Thursday vote on the sprawling immigration package

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel, said Republicans would make a change to employment verification requirements.
Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel, said Republicans would make a change to employment verification requirements. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Republican leaders have agreed to revise a border security package to address concerns raised by some lawmakers over provisions requiring all employers to electronically verify work authorization for new hires, key lawmakers said.

Rep. Tom McClintock of California, chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel, said Tuesday that Republicans plan to put forward an amendment that would delay implementation of this requirement for the agricultural industry if the Homeland Security secretary believes it would cause a disruption.

The original version of the border bill would require all employers across the country to electronically verify if new hires have authorization to work in the U.S. through a federal system called E-Verify. The requirement would be phased in over time, with a three-year implementation delay for the agricultural industry.

Farm groups had raised concerns that the employment verification mandate would decimate the industry’s workforce, which relies heavily on undocumented workers.

According to the Department of Agriculture, more than 40 percent of hired crop farmworkers do not have legal immigration status.

The E-Verify changes followed requests from “several representatives for agricultural districts,” McClintock said.

Republican Reps. Dan Newhouse of Washington, David Valadao of California and Mike Simpson of Idaho, who all represent agricultural districts, were involved in the discussions, according to spokespeople for their respective offices.

The changes are expected to be put forth during the Rules Committee meeting on the bill, which began Tuesday evening, according to Simpson.

Simpson said the changes are sufficient to secure his vote. “It’ll work,” Simpson said.

But he also called on Congress to eventually take up a broader fix to agricultural labor shortages, after efforts fell apart last year to pass a bipartisan bill revising agricultural visas and allowing certain migrant farmworkers to apply for legal status.

Ahead of the Rules Committee meeting, a spokesperson for Newhouse’s office said the lawmaker “had some really positive conversations with leadership and is anticipating a strong bill.”

Other issues

The border security bill is slated for a vote Thursday, the same day that pandemic-related border restrictions known as Title 42 are set to terminate.

The bill would restrict asylum eligibility for migrants journeying to the U.S.-Mexico border, reinstate family detention, heighten penalties for visa overstays and restart border wall construction.

Democrats and human rights organizations have slammed the bill. Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, said during Tuesday’s meeting that the legislation is “the worst immigration and border security bill introduced in my lifetime.”

But it has also faced opposition from some House Republicans as the party holds a slim majority.

Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky also has taken issue with the E-Verify mandate, though for seemingly different reasons than the lawmakers from agricultural districts. In tweets this week, Massie warned that an E-Verify system mandate would give the federal government too much power and compared the provisions to vaccine mandates.

Massie’s spokesperson confirmed Tuesday the Kentucky Republican will be voting against the bill over this issue.

Rep. Daniel Crenshaw, R-Texas, who has raised concerns about some of the language in the bill related to foreign cartels, said Tuesday he is “ambiguous” on whether he will support the legislation.

Crenshaw that he is working with leadership on addressing some of those concerns via a “separate avenue.” But he said he remains concerned about language initiating a study into whether the Mexican cartels should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations.

Crenshaw warned that designating cartels as terrorist organizations has the “serious unintended consequence” of creating the basis for more asylum claims. He said there are “definitely more than five” other members who are “hard nos” on the bill because of the provision.

This measure was a priority for Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, a member of the Homeland Security Committee who had previously expressed reservations about the border bill. Asked if removing the foreign terrorist organization provisions would lose any other votes, Crenshaw replied, “maybe one.”

Still, Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the House Foreign Affairs chairman who led a portion of the border bill, was confident it would still pass on Thursday. He referred back to House Republicans’ recent vote to raise the nation’s borrowing limit and slash federal spending.

“I think there are some holdouts for certain things, but I think at the end of the day we’re going to come together on it, just like we did with budget, the debt ceiling vote,” McCaul said.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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