Senators flout own immigration law on worker verification

7 weren’t signed up for E-Verify program

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Sen. John Boozman is co-sponsoring a bill that would require every employer in the country to use the E-Verify program to screen for illegal workers — but until earlier this month, the senator himself wasn’t signed up for the system, thus violating a 1996 law that makes its use mandatory for all congressional offices.

The Arkansas Republican wasn’t alone. As of the beginning of this month, seven Senate offices were not signed up to use the system, which lets employers check would-be workers’ Social Security numbers against a government database to determine whether they are in the country legally.

After inquiries by The Washington Times, all seven offices said they are now properly signed up.

“It was an oversight that is being corrected,” said Sara Lasure, a spokeswoman for Mr. Boozman. “As a supporter of E-Verify, Sen. Boozman wants to lead by example and is fully supportive of the program.”

The hiccup, though, underscores the difficulty of devising a successful system for the rest of the country at a time when there is no general agreement on how to revamp the American immigration system and how to find the most cost-effective tools to weed out illegal workers.

E-Verify, which is run by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a branch of the Homeland Security Department, could fit that bill — but the sides also disagree about how to expand it.

House Republicans want to make the system mandatory for all businesses and have advanced a bill to do just that through the Judiciary Committee. They argue that E-Verify would ensure that jobs go only to legal workers.

The Obama administration, however, says E-Verify should be mandated only as part of a broader overhaul of immigration laws that also would legalize the status of millions of current illegal immigrants.

The debate has been just as contentious among the states. Some have adopted their own requirements, and others have passed laws prohibiting mandatory E-Verify use.

But none of the seven Senate offices that had failed to sign up had ideological concerns. Rather, most simply seem to have been negligent. The six in addition to Mr. Boozman were: Republican Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas, Dean Heller of Nevada and Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Jim Webb of Virginia and Michael Bennet of Colorado.

“Our office had been erroneously informed that we could transfer the E-Verify account from our program administrator’s former office to Sen. Blumenthal’s, but was informed today that we in fact had to create a new account, which we have done,” said Kate Hansen, Mr. Blumenthal’s spokeswoman. “USCIS informed the office that employees’ information may be run through E-Verify retroactively, so while employees have previously submitted I-9 forms to verify their work authorization, we have initiated the E-Verify process as well, and expect it to be completed by the end of the week.”

Mr. Heller and Mr. Bennet said that though they weren’t signed up, their office managers were still using their predecessors’ log-ins to the E-Verify system to check employees. That would have allowed the checks to be made, though it violates the terms of use of the system.

Mr. Paul’s office declined to say why he had failed to sign up. A spokeswoman said only that the office is now “in compliance with E-Verify.”

Of the seven senators, five took office this year. Mr. Heller was sworn in to fill a vacant seat in May. Mr. Moran and Mr. Boozman were signed up when they were members of the House.

Mr. Webb has been in violation the longest, having taken office in January 2007.

“Our office has always collected I-9 forms and legal documentation for all employees at the time they were hired and also has resolved the issue with E-Verify,” said Webb spokesman Will Jenkins.

Part of the problem is that it’s unclear who should be enforcing the law in the Senate.

Some pointed the finger at the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which oversees operations for the upper chamber.

But Senate officials say each congressional office is similar to an independent business and is responsible for its own internal operations. The Senate nevertheless makes extensive efforts to make sure member offices are aware of the rules, including offering repeated training and a tutorial to talk office managers through the process, and giving frequent reminders that E-Verify is required.

The law itself gives some guidance, charging the Justice Department with enforcement. Justice officials, however, say responsibility is divided between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security and brings the cases, and the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which adjudicates cases.

It was unclear whether any individual E-Verify malfeasance cases have been brought.

In the House, unlike the Senate it’s difficultto get a sense for how scrupulous House members are in signing up to use E-Verify. Several hundred offices are registered, but the House also offers a centralized service to run checks through the system, and many members make use of that service.

The bill advancing through the House to make E-Verify mandatory is sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, Texas Republican. It passed his committee on a party-line vote last month.

A similar bill has been submitted in the Senate. It is sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, and co-sponsored by 10 senators, including Mr. Boozman.

No action has been taken on that legislation. In fact, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and chairman of the SenateJudiciary Committee’s immigration panel, held a hearing aimed at poking holes in the effectiveness of a mandatory E-Verify law.

Nationwide, USCIS said nearly 300,000 employers were registered to use the program as of Oct. 15. The agency recorded more than 796,000 queries from Oct. 1 through Oct. 15 this year.

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