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Politicians Want Gun Buyers Checked, Not Illegal Aliens

By Jeff Johnson

Dozens of U.S. House members who sponsored the nationwide instant background check system for gun buyers in 1993 or backed the expansion of that system in 2002, have shown no support for a similar database intended to identify illegal aliens trying to find work in the U.S.

At least one member who supported the gun control measure is challenging the proposal to crack down on illegal immigrants.

"A database this large is likely to contain many errors," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) during a May 12 hearing on the Illegal Immigration Enforcement and Social Security Protection Act (H.R. 98). "Any one of [the errors] could render someone unemployable and possibly much worse until they can get their file straightened out."

But in 2002, Jackson Lee argued for the "Our Lady of Peace Act," (H.R. 4757), an expansion of the National Instant Check System (NICS) for handgun purchases.

"I strongly support this legislation," Jackson Lee said during the Oct. 15, 2002 consideration of the Our Lady of Peace Act. "A major problem with the instant check system has been the incomplete records of state and local governments."

The legislation to expand NICS would have provided "incentives for states to provide more complete records to the federal government. This will result in faster and smarter background checks," she argued.

Jackson Lee was not in Congress in 1993 when the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act - the law that eventually gave way to the NICS tracking system - was passed. But 83 of the 155 House members who did co-sponsor the Brady bill 12 years ago are still serving in the House, and only one - House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) - is a co-sponsor of the Illegal Immigration Enforcement and Social Security Protection Act.

Erich Pratt, communications director for Gun Owners of America (GOA), said opposition to the attempts to identify illegal immigrants, amounts to "hypocrisy," considering those same members' support for the gun control measure.

"Evidently for this gaggle of congressional gun-haters, the Constitution only applies to illegal aliens, not American citizens," Pratt said. "It seems that some people are 'more equal' than others."

GOA and many other pro-gun groups opposed the Brady bill, which established a mandatory waiting period for handgun purchases until the National Instant Check System (NICS) became operational on Nov. 30, 1998.

NICS allows gun dealers to electronically check the identities of gun buyers against a database containing information on convicted felons, the mentally ill and others legally prohibited from owning firearms.

A little more than a year after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., the House moved to expand the NICS database by taking up the Our Lady of Peace Act. The proposal would have added the names of foreign visitors and students, patients with serious mental illness and known illegal aliens to the list. It passed the House on a voice vote, but the Senate never considered it.

'Turn off the job magnet'

The most recent research available indicates that more than one-quarter of the immigrants living in the United States are doing so illegally. Of the 37.5 million foreign-born individuals currently living in the U.S., demographer Jeffrey Passell of the Pew Hispanic Center has determined that 10.3 million, or 29 percent, either entered or remain in the country illegally. Passell combined previous research he had conducted with the March 2004 "Current Population Study" conducted by the Census Bureau and data from other federal agencies to arrive at his conclusions.

At a May 12 hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims, Chairman John Hostettler (R-Ind.) argued that border enforcement alone would fail to stop millions more non-citizens from illegally crossing U.S. borders.

"We will only be able to assert control over illegal immigration when we can turn off the job magnet that draws most illegal aliens to our country," he said.

"Congress recognized the power of the job magnet in 1986, when we passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986," Hostettler continued. "This legislation made it unlawful for employers to knowingly hire or employ aliens not eligible to work, and required employers to check the identity and work eligibility documents of all new employees."

But an unintended consequence of IRCA, according to supporters of the new illegal immigration enforcement bill, was the explosion in phony identity documents used by illegal aliens seeking to verify their employment eligibility.

Jack Martin, director of special projects for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), told Cybercast News Service that the effectiveness of IRCA was reduced because employers could accept fraudulent documents and still claim they made a good faith effort to "verify" the eligibility of an illegal alien employee. As a result, serious legal action against offending employers has been rare.

"The employer sanctions law needs to be made effective by requiring employers to verify the work eligibility documents," Martin explained, "and a program already exists to do that."

Martin is referring to the Employment Verification Basic Pilot Program, which was created in November 1997 by the federal agency that would eventually become the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Under the program, employers check the Social Security number or Alien Registration number of a newly hired worker with the Social Security Administration (SSA) and USCIS. If the number is valid and the applicant's identifying information matches the data on file, the employer receives a confirmation to hire the person. If there is a discrepancy, the employee is instructed to contact USCIS' parent, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to correct the problem.

Originally launched in the five states believed to have the highest incidence of illegal immigration - California, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois - the program expanded to include Nebraska in March 1999 and it has received many positive reviews.

A congressional report on the third and fourth years of the program determined that 96 percent of participating employers found the program to be "an effective tool for employment verification," and that 94 percent believed it to be "more reliable than the physical document check" mandated by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIR-IRA) in 1996.

Lawmakers made the pilot program available nationwide in December 2004, but Martin said simple availability of the program is insufficient.

"The problem with it is that it's a voluntary system," Martin argued. "It needs to be made a mandatory, national program."

Rep. David Drier (R-Calif.) introduced the Illegal Immigration Enforcement and Social Security Protection Act (H.R. 98) in January 2005 to achieve that end.

The new legislation requires that once a federal Employment Eligibility Database (EED) is implemented, no person may be hired by any employer in the U.S. unless they have presented their Social Security or Alien Registration card to the prospective employer and that employer has verified the applicant's legal right to work in the U.S. with the database.

Martin believes such a nationwide, mandatory system would produce multiple benefits.

"If we had the verification system, foreigners would quickly realize that it is not worthwhile trying to come to the United States illegally," Martin predicted, "and the resources of the Border Patrol would be much more effective in controlling the borders."

But Jackson Lee is still challenging the proposed Employment Eligibility Database, complaining about past difficulties in correcting inaccurate alien registration information and expressing fears that the sheer size of the proposed database would exacerbate any problems.

"The act includes a confidentiality requirement and restricts access to the database, but it may not be possible to enforce these limitations," Jackson Lee said. "Moreover, once the database has been created, its use would almost certainly expand."

Pratt hopes Jackson Lee will raise similar questions and objections the next time a bill that would create a database of law-abiding gun owners is proposed in Congress.

"GOA has been saying this for years and we're glad that now that the congresswoman's ox is being gored, she's finally understanding the dangers of forcing honest people to jump through hoops before they exercise their gun rights," Pratt said.

Jackson Lee did not respond to multiple telephone calls and emails to her Capitol Hill office seeking a response for this report.

Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.) supported both the original Brady/NICS legislation and the expansion proposal. Cybercast News Service contacted Castle's District of Columbia and Delaware offices to determine whether he planned to co-sponsor or support the Employment Eligibility Database legislation but received no response.\SpecialReports\archive\200506\SPE20050627a.html

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