Obama's non-committal answer to E-Verify veto requests

In President Barack Obama’s seemingly interminable exercise in evasion yesterday, at least one advocate of a more responsible immigration policy saw a bright spot.

The president yesterday refused to commit to veto H.R. 2164, Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-Tex.) bill to require most employers to enact the E-Verify program to confirm the legal work status of employees. The president’s noncommittal attitude held even when reporters pressed him. Would he veto the bill if it came to his desk clean, without any added amnesty provisions? The president wouldn’t say.

Roy Beck, executive director of Numbers USA, a group that advocates for lower immigration levels to prevent a “congested and regimented” future for the country and to ensure more jobs for American workers, said he cheered that part of the president’s presser.

“Seven million jobs could be opened up by this bill,” Beck said. “We’re talking a real dent in the unemployment numbers. … I think the president knows that when this bill comes to his desk, that’s the way it’s going to be phrased. ‘Are you going to veto this bill and refuse to give these jobs to unemployed Americans?’ He’s going to try like crazy to attach an amnesty bill, but if it gets to his desk clean, he’s going to sign it.”

Beck might be right. After all, the president will surely do whatever is politically expedient for his reelection effort, and, at at time when most Americans cite ‘jobs and the economy’ as their top concern, that just might mean allowing E-Verify to pass. He could be spared the choice entirely, though: It must first pass the Senate, where Beck says, it will face “a colossal fight.”

The president’s refusal to outright reject the bill comes after his administration issued a memo that said federal immigration officials do not have to deport illegal aliens if they are enrolled in any type of education program, if their family members have volunteered for U.S. military service or if they are pregnant or nursing.

The move represented an astounding, but already established disregard for the legislative process — but, in the end, it might backfire on the president. Smith has already drafted legislation to prevent the administration from enacting the memo — the so-called HALT Act.

“If [the HALT Act] were to pass, the president would veto it,” Beck said, “but the point of it is to put the president on notice and say ‘back off.’ Just how long and how far can this president go in nullification of Congressionally-passed laws? That’s why it’s really helpful that Lamar Smith is calling his bluff with this bill.”

It seems the president wants to play it both ways — prove his commitment to a “presence amnesty” (one that allows illegal immigrants to remain in the country) with his executive memo, but stop short of “a jobs amnesty” by signing the E-Verify bill.

If that’s not his plan — if he does ultimately veto the E-Verify bill — he’ll have a hard time defending his prioritization of administrative amnesty over job creation for 22 million unemployed Americans.

Update: This post originally mistakenly identified Chairman Lamar Smith as from Tennessee, when, in fact, he is from Texas.

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