WASHINGTON – At the heart of far-reaching immigration legislation passed Friday by the House is a simple but controversial theory: If the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants can’t find jobs, they’ll leave the country. By including the rigorous employment-verification provision in the bill – employers could be fined as much as $25,000 per worker for hiring an illegal immigrant – supporters say common sense dictates that those lured by the prospect of better jobs in America will go home if no one will hire them. Advocates for illegal immigrants, however, note that is unlikely to happen because half of America’s undocumented immigrants have been in the country at least 10 years, and more than 2 million households headed by an illegal immigrant include a U.S.-born child. “I just don’t think it’s realistic,” said Michelle Waslin, spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza. “The conditions in the sending countries are such that people literally risk their lives to come here to the United States. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake “How miserable would you have to make conditions here in the United States for them to choose to leave and return to miserable conditions in their country?” Little data exists to support either argument, since employer verification laws are rarely enforced. Under the House bill that now awaits Senate action, Congress ordered a $360 million national verification system. Through it, every employer would be required to cross-check employees’ Social Security numbers or other identifying information to ensure their work eligibility. But even under current employer-verification procedures in 2004, only three U.S. employers were threatened with sanctions for hiring illegal immigrants, compared with 162 the previous year and 714 in 1999. Ultimately, gauging the impact the law could have on America’s illegal immigrant population – about 7 million of whom are believed to be working – appears to come down to gut instinct and what politicians think they know about human nature. “They’re not going to stay here and starve. They came here for a better life for themselves,” said Rep. Gary Miller, R-Brea, adding he believes most illegal immigrants would leave under a strict employment-enforcement regime. “If you eliminate the incentive or the reason people came to start with, I firmly believe an overwhelming majority of them will go home,” added Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Thousand Oaks. Even if that doesn’t come to pass, Gallegly said, failing to clamp down on employers who hire illegal immigrants sends the wrong message. “As long as we allow and protect the activity, all it’s going to do is encourage more,” he said. Ira Mehlman, Los Angeles-based spokesman for the Federation for Immigration Reform, said he believes illegal immigrants will leave voluntarily if employers are held accountable. But, he said, it will take years. “It’s going to have to be a protracted example of enforcement. No question there will be some who stay anyway and just go deeper underground, but over time you could persuade a substantial number that there’s no point in sticking around,” he said. Advocates for illegal immigrants counter that families will merely go deeper underground, taking more jobs in the underground cash economy and opening themselves up to greater exploitation. Those with American citizen children, they said, would be even less likely to leave. Deborah Notkin, president of the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association, said many immigrants have developed into blended families in the United States. “They have children who are U.S. citizens. They have children who they brought over when they were 6 months old. This is, for all practical purposes, home. While some may go, the bulk of them are going to try to stay,” Notkin said. Rep. Howard Berman, D-Van Nuys, said he thinks it’s possible some illegal immigrants would depart voluntarily. But, he said, it’s a moot point: A Republican-controlled Congress will never enforce a bill that big business vehemently opposes. “The absence of jobs would certainly stop the magnet, and probably over a very long time have the effect of perhaps getting people to go home, or they’ll find other informal networks,” Berman said. But, he added, “Do you believe the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the employers of this country, the people who fund and finance Republican campaigns, will ever allow a bill to become law when a number of their industries rely so heavily on illegal immigrants? “It will never be implemented,” he predicted. “We will never see this as law.” Lisa Friedman, (202) 662-8731 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!