NEWS

Immigration Status Checks Required for All Federal Contractors

By Matthew Harwood

President Bush has ordered all private contractors wishing to do business with the federal government to confirm that all employees are legally allowed to work in the United States.

The contractors will have to submit their employees' names and Social Security numbers through an electronic employment verification system known as E-Verify run by the Department of Homeland Security, that is designed to determine the immigration status of its employees when a contractor accepts a government contract or hires a new employee.

“If we expect private employers to use E-Verify, the federal government should lead by example and not merely by exultation,” CQ.com quoted (subscription only) DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff as saying yesterday.

The executive order signed by President Bush states "It is the policy of the executive branch to enforce fully the immigration laws of the United States, including the detection and removal of illegal aliens and the imposition of legal sanctions against employers that hire illegal aliens."

The order also states that contractors that hire illegal workers, even unknowingly, disrupt, delay, and increase the cost of the federal contracting process because the federal government must enforce its immigration laws.

The New York Times reports the expansion of the program is another step in the White House's crackdown on employers who use illegal labor.

The order expands the E-Verify program, which has been the target of criticism and lawsuits by employers’ groups and advocates for immigrants who say the Social Security database it draws upon to check workers’ status is riddled with errors that could lead to legal workers’ being fired or rejected for employment.

This is the first time that participation in the program, which Congress established in 1996 as a voluntary system, has become mandatory for any large group of employers.

Professor Paul C. Light, a federal contracting expert at New York University, told the Los Angeles Times that President Bush has made it hard for the government to ensure that the E-Verify program is a success. The use of private contractors by the federal government has soared by 70 percent during the current administration.

"It's a very large number and very difficult to track. Who is responsible for making sure the sub-sub-sub-contractor is using E-Verify?" he said.

 According to the Wall Street Journal, 69,000 businesses have signed on to the free, Internet-based E-Verify program, and the LA Times reports 1,000 additional businesses sign up per week. Chertoff said that 99.5 percent of all employees submitted were cleared automatically.

The increased participation is attributed to business' perception that it will ease scrutiny from the government.

Critics argue that the system's databases are incorrect and that the system's widespread deployment will only increase other criminal actitivies.

As the LA Times notes, the Social Security Administration discovered "discrepancies" in 17.8 million records of American citizens and legal immigrants that would take a significant time to correct. Businesses and public interest groups complain of a burdensome process whereby once a person is misidentified as an illegal immigrant, the employer and the worker must resolve the discrepancy.

“The president’s immigration announcement will effectively create a ‘No-Work’ list,” said Timothy Sparapani, senior legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), as quoted by CQ.com. “This will not decrease immigration, but it will cause enormous turmoil and economic distress for the poor workers who wrongly lose their jobs due to erroneous government data or whose identity is borrowed by an undocumented immigrant who is desperate to work.”

Another concern is that E-Verify will unintentionally increase identity theft. WSJ says a report published in March by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, will only make employers keep illegal immigrants off the books or make illegal immigrants more prone to steal people's identities to fool the system. The ACLU also agrees that the new system will increase identity theft.

The Cato Institute is also fearful of the system's price tag: $20 billion to create and hundreds of millions of dollars more to operate per year.

Nevertheless, anti-immigrant groups celebrated the White House's executive order.

Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for Numbers USA, said "We are thrilled to death. This had been far too long in coming."

She also argued that those who criticize the system's errors or cost have created "a straw man," according to CQ.com.

“There is not a single instance where a U.S. citizen or a non-citizen with legal permission to work has ever been fired, because of an error in E-Verify.”

 

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