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House OKs Three-Year Extension of E-Verify Program

October 16, 2009
With action on comprehensive immigration reform pushed off to next year, the House approved a homeland security funding bill on Thursday, October 15, that would renew a government-run electronic employment verification system.

A provision to extend the mechanism, known as E-Verify, for three years was included in a $42.8 billion appropriations measure the House approved, 307-114, that would fund the Department of Homeland Security for the next fiscal year.

The bill was a product of House-Senate negotiations and is expected to be approved by the Senate.

It 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.

During bicameral talks last week, Senate amendments that would have permanently authorized E-Verify and would have codified a regulation that makes E-Verify mandatory for federal contractors were dropped.

The decisions cool for now a simmering debate over the effectiveness of E-Verify.

“There’s no consensus on making it permanent, and no interest in tackling this as a stand-alone issue with the prospect of a more wide-ranging debate on comprehensive immigration reform looming in the future,” says Eric Bord, a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Washington.

The mechanism, which checks employee information from I-9 forms against Social Security and homeland security databases, is used voluntarily by more than 148,000 employers.

Groups such as the Society for Human Resource Management have criticized the system 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.

SHRM is backing legislation that would implement an alternative electronic verification system that includesa 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.

But the Obama administration has made E-Verify the centerpiece of its efforts to increase work-site enforcement, as did the Bush administration. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says that E-Verify confirms within 24 hours nearly 97 percent of employment queries.

The homeland security agency increased the reach of E-Verify in September by implementing a regulation that would make the system 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.

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,” says Randel Johnson, chamber senior vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits.

—Mark Schoeff Jr.

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