September 21, 2011 in Nation/World

House takes up E-Verify mandate

Michael Doyle McClatchy
 

WASHINGTON – A hotly contested bill moving this week would compel employers to verify worker eligibility via the Internet while it ratchets up the nation’s perennial immigration debate.

Farmers fear it. Skeptics sweat potential errors. But in the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee, mandatory E-Verify is now an idea whose time has come. Whether the full Congress and White House agree is quite another matter.

“E-Verify is a jobs killer, but only for illegal workers,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas. “For Americans and legal workers, it is a jobs protector.”

Smith chairs the House Judiciary Committee and authored the so-called Legal Workforce Act, currently backed by 62 members of the House of Representatives. His panel is scheduled to mark up the bill today.

The bill would make mandatory what is at present a free, voluntary E-Verify program, currently used by about 250,000 U.S. employers. The participants electronically check worker eligibility through Social Security or Department of Homeland Security databases.

Some 16 million worker eligibility inquiries annually are being filed electronically, with more each year as states add their own requirements. Eighteen states currently mandate some form of E-Verify use; some, like Arizona, cover all employers, while states like Florida, Idaho and North Carolina cover only state agencies.

The new bill would phase in nationwide mandatory participation over two years, covering new hires. Agricultural employers would get three years to comply. Seasonal farm workers would be exempt so long as they kept returning to the same employer.


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