- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Federal contractors now are required to check the citizenship and legal status of their employees by using a free federal service that some business groups and state lawmakers have criticized as unreliable.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced Monday that President Bush has signed an executive order directing federal contractors to use E-Verify, an Internet system that can confirm a worker’s legal status within seconds.

Federal agencies already are required to use the verification system.

“Where a contractor assigns illegal aliens to work on federal contracts, the enforcement of federal immigration laws imposes a direct risk of disruption, delay, and increased expense in federal contracting,” Mr. Bush said in Executive Order 12989, which he signed Friday. “Such contractors are less dependable procurement sources, even if they do not knowingly hire or knowingly continue to employ unauthorized workers.”

E-Verify is operated by the Social Security Administration and Citizenship and Immigration Services, and it is already used by nearly 70,000 employers enrolled in the program.

More than 4 million queries have been made this year, and 99.5 percent were automatically cleared, according to the Homeland Security Department.

As a condition of receiving future contracts, federal contractors will be required to sign an agreement to use the system.

E-Verify is contentious among some business groups and state lawmakers who question its reliability and the accuracy of information in the database. In addition, civil libertarians have said system errors will lead to discrimination and job losses by U.S. citizens and legal residents who are wrongly identified as illegal workers.

Last year, the Illinois General Assembly enacted a law to prohibit employers from enrolling in E-Verify, but agreed to suspend the law from taking effect if certain changes were made to eliminate false-positive results.

The Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the program, has filed a federal lawsuit challenging a new state law there that requires online verification of workers’ immigration status.

“A large part of our success in enforcing the nation’s immigration laws hinges on equipping employers with the tools to determine quickly and effectively if a worker is legal or illegal,” Mr. Chertoff said.

“E-Verify is a proven tool that helps employers immediately verify the legal working status for all new hires,” Mr. Chertoff said.

Earlier this month, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, signed a law requiring all companies doing business with the state or local governments to use the federal electronic database.

Mr. Bush said his order is designed to “promote economy and efficiency” in federal procurement.

“A contractor whose work force is less stable will be less likely to produce goods and services economically and efficiently than a contractor whose work force is more stable,” Mr. Bush said.

“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,” Mr. Bush said.

Congress established the verification program as part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to verify an employee’s legal status at no charge to an employer.

Although the program was set to expire in 2001, E-Verify has been extended twice by Congress and is scheduled for reauthorization in November.

Rep. Ken Calvert, California Republican, is sponsoring legislation to extend the program and a second bill that would make E-Verify mandatory for all businesses.

“Many of us in Congress have been urging the president to take this step, and I’m pleased that federal contractors will now be required to ensure their workers are authorized to work in the U.S.,” Mr. Calvert said.

Verification of workers’ immigration status was a key part of comprehensive immigration-reform bills Congress considered in 2006 and last year. After the bills died in the Senate, states began enacting laws to require employers to verify their workers’ legal status.

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