- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

The Department of Homeland Security will not punish employers who can’t verify new workers’ employee status over the next 45 days — a move designed to help victims of Hurricane Katrina but which critics say will benefit illegal aliens.

Members of Congress yesterday questioned whether the department has the authority to suspend enforcement, and said the move is a bad precedent.

“Hurricane Katrina has caused a situation unlike any we have ever had to endure, but that does not mean that the Department of Homeland Security has the authority to ignore important laws,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican. “The end result may be worthwhile, but that does not mean that federal agencies can disregard statutes put in place to protect American jobs.”

Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, said the policy change isn’t needed because businesses weren’t worried about sanctions anyway.

“When was the last time DHS checked documents to begin with?” asked Mr. Tancredo. “I don’t know what it is they’re trying to accomplish, but it isn’t because we need the work force and it isn’t because any employer was worried about DHS checking documents.”

He said the policy is an invitation to illegal aliens to take jobs at a time when there are hundreds of thousands of Americans looking for a job.

A spokeswoman for the department said they aren’t suspending enforcement, just using “prosecutorial discretion on a case-by-case basis, for a limited time, for affected employment applicants.”

“If you hire someone in these 45 days and they cannot show appropriate documentation because of the hurricane, and all of that in good faith, you would not be sanctioned for not having seen those documents,” said Jamie E. Zuieback.

She also said the policy does not mean the department is turning a blind eye.

“If Homeland Security determines through an investigation that employers are engaged in fraud to exploit this temporary measure or individuals who are ineligible for employment have falsely claimed to be Katrina victims and gained employment to exploit these circumstances, they could be held liable,” she said.

In a statement announcing the decision Tuesday the department said U.S. employers are responsible for completing and retaining employment eligibility verification forms, known as I-9 documents, for those they hire for employment. The form requires employers to verify employment eligibility and establish identity through original documents presented by the employee.

The I-9 forms are not filed with the U.S. government, but must be retained by the employers for three years after the date of hire or one year after the date the employee’s employment is terminated.

The acceptable documentation includes U.S. passports, resident-alien cards, alien-registration cards, Social Security cards, and driver’s licenses with a photograph.

Ms. Zuieback said the department gave no guidance on how businesses can identify whether new employees were actual victims of the hurricane. The policy is in effect nationwide, since refugees have fled or been transported throughout the nation.

After 45 days the department plans to review the new policy.

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