House, Senate Split on E-Verify for Stimulus Package
February 11, 2009
The U.S. Senate has put the kibosh on a government initiative requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to use an Internet-based electronic verification system to confirm that prospective employees are legally eligible to work.
In the latest chapter of the saga, the Senate Feb. 9 eliminated the E-Verify provisions the House put in its version of the $838 billion stimulus program. The House version requires that all companies benefiting from stimulus money use the E-Verify system to prevent the hiring of illegal aliens. The controversial provision now moves behind closed doors as House and Senate negotiators thrash out the differences in the two legislative packages.
The free E-Verify program is jointly operated by the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services in partnership with the Social Security Administration. Approximately 100,000 employers are participating in the program, but some employer groups have long complained that E-Verify program is too costly and imperfect to justify mandatory use by federal contractors and subcontractors.
A Department of Homeland Security study claims that E-Verify database errors would result in about 4,000 U.S. workers in every 1 million being initially denied eligibility.
"The House bill stands strongly on the side of U.S. workers, while the Senate bill stands firmly with the cheap labor business lobby," Dan Stein, president of FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform), the nation's largest immigration reform group, said in a statement. "We urge the conferees to keep faith with the American people and include E-Verify protections for U.S. workers in the bill that is sent to President Obama's desk."
Stein urged House leadership to resist pressure to strip the E-Verify provisions from the conference bill. "Discussing the overall bill, Speaker Nancy Pelosi cautioned that, 'We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the effective and the necessary,'" Stein said. "E-Verify has a proven track record of effectiveness, and in an economy that shed 600,000 jobs last month alone, it is clearly necessary, and with a 99.6 percent accuracy rate it is about as close to perfection as we are likely to get."
Under an executive order signed by former President George W. Bush, federal contractors were to begin using E-Verify Jan. 15, 2009, but that deadline was pushed back to May 20 after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed suit Dec. 23 challenging the legality of the program.
"The federal government agreed that the new administration needs time to rethink mandatory E-Verify use, particularly in light of the stressed economy," Robin Conrad, executive vice president of the National Chamber Litigation Center, said in a statement. "We are hopeful that the incoming administration will agree that E-Verify is the wrong solution at the wrong time."
The Chamber of Commerce's lawsuit challenges the government's use of a presidential executive order coupled with a federal procurement law to make E-Verify mandatory for federal contractors with projects exceeding $100,000 and for subcontractors with projects exceeding $3,000. The Chamber of Commerce also challenged the expansion of E-Verify to require the reauthorization of existing workers.
Also joining in the lawsuit are the Associated Builders and Contractors, the Society for Human Resource Management, the American Council on International Personnel and the HR Policy Association.