Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell said Monday he will move up by 18 months the deadline for state agencies to start checking the legal status of state employees.
The deadline for state agencies to start using the E-Verify system was to be the end of next year, but Mr. McDonnell said the program instead will begin on June 1.
E-Verify runs names through databases maintained by federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration, to confirm that employees are legally eligible to work in the U.S.
Delegate Dave Albo, Fairfax Republican, said that when he introduced the bill authorizing use of the system last year, it was eight pages long and also would have applied to government contractors, businesses with more than 15 employees and local governments. It was scaled back to one paragraph and applied only to state government agencies after everyone "freaked out," he said.
A bill expanding the use of the system to government contractors passed the General Assembly this year — one of a slew of recent bills aimed at addressing problems associated with illegal immigration.
A McDonnell spokesman said he is "reviewing" the legislation.
Mr. Albo said he hopes that after the state government tries out E-Verify for a year or so, lawmakers will be persuaded to expand it throughout the state.
"If they find out it's super easy, than all the people against it will have lost their major argument," Mr. Albo said. "Their only argument will be, 'We want to hire illegal aliens.'"
But that's not Delegate Ken Plum's argument. As one of eight delegates to vote against the bill, the Reston Democrat said he won't support using E-Verify until he's convinced it's sophisticated enough to not produce "false positives" — a flaw whose extent is disputed by experts.
"I don't really think we should be taking applicants for state jobs to be guinea pigs for the system," Mr. Plum said.
In general, bills dealing with illegal immigration are often used for political gain, Mr. Plum said.
"I don't have a problem with the ultimate goal [of E-Verify]," he said. "But the process seems to often be done with a lot of fanfare and lengthy press releases to suggest it's more to curry favor."
Rue White, director of the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management, said the June start date of the system is realistic.
Ms. White said the new system won't replace, at least for now, the I-9 forms employees must fill out to attest to their legal status. Though it will add one more administrative step, it also will give state agencies a quicker way to verify that they may legally hire a new employee. It's easy to use, she said.
"It's a pretty easy process to contact the feds and become a registered user," Ms. White said. "I think we can have it implemented in the time frame the governor wants."
Right now, most state agencies run their employees' names through a Social Security database once a year, she said.
In the 36 years she has worked for the state, Ms. White said, she remembers only two instances in which an employee was found ineligible to work in the United States. She emphasizes that E-Verify isn't intended to check whether someone is a legal resident, only if he or she is a legal worker.
"Our main question and concern is are you legally eligible to work in this country," Ms. White said. "Not what is your immigration status or anything like that."
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