Jun 26 2009

Employers embrace E-Verify

By Brian Lawson

1,000 in state sign up for federal work eligibility program

More than 1,000 Alabama employers have signed up for the federal government's free E-Verify program, which is aimed at providing electronic verification of a new hire's eligibility to work in the U.S.

The U.S. House voted Wednesday to increase proposed fiscal 2010 funding for the still voluntary program by $50 million, to $162 million. The measure was supported by U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith, D-Huntsville, who said it is a useful tool to guard against undocumented workers.

"E-Verify is a simple tool that allows us to locally combat illegal immigration's drain on our schools, hospitals and local governments," Griffith said in a news release. "It is an effective and fiscally sound way to enforce the immigration laws that we already have on the books as we work toward comprehensive reform. After months of fighting for its implementation, I am pleased we have taken the first step in the program."

Then-President George W. Bush signed an executive order in 2008 requiring all federal government contractors to use the E-Verify system to confirm all new hires were legally allowed to work in the U.S.

The implementation of that requirement has been pushed back several times, and is scheduled to go into effect Sept. 8. U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, has indicated he will introduce a measure calling for an immediate implementation of the E-Verify contractor requirement.

The U.S. Senate is also considering its E-Verify funding; currently it hasn't added $50 million that the House has added. The office of U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, said he continues to support the program.

"As a member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, Sen. Shelby strongly supported the $118.5 million provided in the Senate version for a three-year extension of E-Verify," Shelby spokesman Jonathan Graffeo said. "He believes that E-Verify is critical to the enforcement of immigration laws in the workplace, and will continue to support funding for the program."

The program uses databases from the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration and is administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The Social Security Administration has some 450 million records and the Department of Homeland Security has some 80 million immigration records, the USCIS reports.

Nationally the program, which began as a pilot in 1997, has some 120,000 companies participating.

But an expansion of the program - making it a federal requirement for all employers - would be costly, according to a 2008 Government Accountability Office study. The GAO found that serving the 7.4 million U.S. employers would require hiring more employees and expanding systems.

"USCIS officials estimated that a mandatory E-Verify program could cost a total of about $765 million for fiscal years 2009 through 2012 if only newly hired employees are queried through the program and about $838 million over the same 4-year period if both newly hired and current employees are queried," the GAO reported.

The GAO also warned about problems associated with outdated records or stolen identities.

E-Verify administrators have added a photograph component that can allow employers to check their employee against their photo on related documents to help ensure they are not forged or stolen.