U.S. immigration services have the capacity to handle additional requests if more states mandate that businesses use E-Verify — the government's voluntary system to check employees' legal status — but would need time to accommodate a nationwide program, the agency's director said Thursday.
"We have the capacity currently to process far more queries than we currently handle. And so we can right now handle the expansion of E-Verify to additional states. But if it was mandated across the country, it would take us some time to ramp up for that exponentially greater volume," said Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that handles legal-immigration benefits.
E-Verify allows employers to check names against information from the Social Security database to see whether potential new hires are authorized to work in the U.S.
It is currently voluntary under federal law, but four states have passed mandatory E-Verify laws for all their businesses: Arizona, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi.
The Supreme Court has upheld the Arizona law, turning back a challenge from the Obama administration.
An additional 13 states require state agencies, government contractors, or both, to run their employees through the system, according to NumbersUSA, a group that lobbies for stricter immigration limits. E-Verify legislation has been introduced in a handful of other states as well.
But states where use is mandatory have seen varying levels of compliance. A Washington Times analysis of the logs of those signed up to use E-Verify shows a number of businesses in those states have failed to comply with their laws.
The Times last year even found a half-dozen U.S. senators who weren't complying with the federal law mandating all congressional offices use the system. All the offices signed up to use the system after The Times' investigation.
More than 17 million checks were run through the system in fiscal year 2011.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith has written a bill that would make E-Verify mandatory for all new hires across the country. The legislation passed out of his committee last year, but has since stalled, according to Republican leaders, who said it is mired in other committees. After passing Judiciary, the legislation was referred to two other panels, which have not acted.
An aide on the Judiciary panel said Mr. Smith's legislation phases in the checks, which would give E-Verify a chance to ramp up. It also gives the Homeland Security secretary a waiver power to delay implementation for six months.
As for additional resources, the aide said, the administration could submit any new needs to the Appropriations Committee.
Mr. Mayorkas said he was "not in a position to comment" on the House bill.
The agency earlier this year expanded a pilot program so that people across the county can now check themselves to see whether the system says they are legal workers. Self-checking gives users a chance to clear up any potential errors, such as a name change or immigration-status update, that could delay approval when they apply for a job in the future.
Mr. Mayorkas said 102,942 people had self-checked their status as of Thursday.
He spoke to reporters as he laid out his agency's priorities for 2012, including stepping up efforts to combat fraud and trying to be more consistent in the decisions it makes on the 6 million to 7 million applications for immigration benefits it adjudicates each year.
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