- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2008

In an unusual display of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans on Tuesday squared off against other Democrats and Republicans during a House panel hearing on how to screen the public work force and separate legal workers from illegal immigrants.

Reps. Ken Calvert, California Republican, and Heath Shuler, North Carolina Democrat, said it should be mandatory for all employers to use an automatic Internet system called E-Verify to match Social Security numbers with prospective workers.

Reps. Sam Johnson, Texas Republican, and Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona Democrat, agreed - but said the Department of Homeland Security Department (DHS) cannot be trusted to protect the privacy of American workers.

“An agency responsible for tracking terrorists and securing our borders should not be keeping tabs on when and where Americans work,” Mr. Johnson told the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, citizenship, refugees, border security and international law hearing.

“The Social Security Administration, not DHS, has the responsibility to track the earnings history of every worker to ensure they receive the correct amount of disability or retirement benefits. Americans trust the Social Security Administration, and they believe the agency does a good job. I do, too,” he said.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced Monday that President Bush had signed an executive order directing federal contractors to use E-Verify to check the citizenship and legal status of their employees. Federal agencies already are required to use the verification system, and nearly 70,000 employers are enrolled to use it.

But E-Verify, which is operated by the Social Security Administration and Citizenship and Immigration Services, has been criticized as being unreliable by some business groups and state lawmakers.

House members on both sides of the aisle, including supporters of E-Verify, questioned its effectiveness Tuesday but praised Mr. Bush for expanding the requirement to government contractors.

“E-Verify is not perfect. No system is. But it is a very good system that has safeguards to ensure that employers and employees rights are being protected in accordance with the law,” Mr. Calvert said.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat and subcommittee chairman, said she is concerned that “unintended consequences or misuse” of the system could result in employees being wrongly denied work authorization.

However, ranking member Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, said the accuracy of the system is “remarkable.”

“This is what the American people want,” Mr. King said.

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