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HR Group Hails E-Verify Extension as Steppingstone to Something Better

Proposals for reforming employee verification will likely be taken up as part of comprehensive immigration reform. Until then, Congress wants to keep E-Verify operating in its current form. The system is voluntary and applies only to new hires.

October 21, 2009
Related Topics: Future Workplace, Labor Relations, Latest News
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An organization that has criticized a government-run electronic employment verification system hailed Senate approval of a bill that would keep it operating for three more years.

The HR Initiative for a Legal Workforce views the extension contained in a $42.8 billion homeland security funding bill approved by the Senate, 79-19, on Tuesday, October 20, as a bridge to a better mechanism. The House passed the homeland bill October 15, 307-114.

Congress chose to keep the system, called E-Verify, in place while it decides how and when to tackle comprehensive immigration reform. The mechanism, which checks employee information from I-9 forms against Social Security and homeland security databases, is used by more than 148,000 employers.

Business groups have hammered E-Verify for being inefficient, ineffective and unable to detect identity theft. They say that mistakes in government records could cause hundreds of thousands of legal workers to be declared ineligible.

The Obama administration has made E-Verify the centerpiece of its workplace enforcement strategy, just as the Bush administration did. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services maintains that E-Verify confirms within 24 hours nearly 97 percent of employment queries.

The homeland measure allocates $137 million to improve E-Verify’s accuracy and compliance rates and $135 million for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hire special agents for workplace immigration audits.

The HR Initiative, which is led by the Society for Human Resource Management, said the E-Verify extension is a good placeholder while Congress considers alternatives to the system.

“While E-Verify in its current form is not a long-term solution, extending funding on a temporary basis is a responsible step that should allow the time required to transition to a more effective approach,” Mike Aitken, SHRM director of government affairs, said in an October 21 statement.

SHRM is backing legislation, the New Employee Verification Act, that would implement an alternative electronic verification system that includes a biometric identifier such as fingerprints.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York and chairman of the Senate judiciary subcommittee on immigration, also advocates a biometric component.

Proposals for reforming employee verification will likely be taken up as part of comprehensive immigration reform. Until then, Congress wants to keep E-Verify operating in its current form. The system is voluntary and applies only to new hires.

During House-Senate negotiations on the homeland appropriations bill, Senate amendments were dropped that would have permanently authorized E-Verify, applied it to incumbent workers and codified a recent regulation that makes E-Verify mandatory for federal contractors.

Abandoning the provisions upset their Senate sponsors, who asserted that it shows that the Obama administration and Democratic majorities in Congress aren’t serious about enforcement of immigration laws.

“The short-term extension only discourages participation in the E-Verify system,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, in an October 20 Senate floor speech.

The homeland security agency, however, increased the reach of E-Verify in September by implementing a regulation that would make it mandatory for federal contractors.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce failed to get language inserted into the homeland appropriations bill that would limit verification only to contractors’ new hires rather than every employee working on a federal project.

The chamber is also fighting the contractor rule in the courts, where it is arguing that the government lacks the authority to make the voluntary program mandatory for contractors. A Maryland district court rejected its lawsuit against the contractor regulation. The chamber has filed an appeal with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

The organization also continues to seek legislative relief.

“Our main focus right now is to try and provide that the regulation does not require the re-verification of current employees,” said Randel Johnson, chamber senior vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits.

—Mark Schoeff Jr.

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