Sessions: Congress Erred In E-Verify Extension Vote

Sessions: Congress erred in E-Verify extension vote

By Deborah Barfield Berry
The Montgomery Advertiser, October 23, 2009

Washington, DC — The Congressional bill to extend a program that lets employers check the legal status of new hires is now awaiting the signature of President Barack Obama — but it does not include a proposal from U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, that would have made the program permanent.

Obama is expected to sign the bill, which extends the E-Verify program for three years. Congress also approved $137 million for the program as part of a $43 billion spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security.

The Senate in July approved Sessions' amendment to the spending bill. But House and Senate lawmakers who negotiated a final bill altered the provision to extend E-Verify rather than make it permanent.

Sessions said that was a mistake.

'We should do it, particularly now that we are in a time of serious economic downturn and unemployment,' he said.

There is no state-wide law requiring employers in Alabama to check the legal status of new hires. But 12 other states — Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Utah — require some or all employers to use E-Verify, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, support the program.

Homeland Security officials say E-Verify is used by more than 126,000 employers nationwide, with 1,000 businesses joining each week. Federal contractors and subcontractors are required to use E-Verify.

'We absolutely should make it so that anyone who obtains a contract or a job as a result of government taxpayer money should be legally in the United States,' Sessions said Tuesday on the Senate floor. 'If they are not, they shouldn't get the job. It should be set aside for American taxpayers.'

Critics of the program, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, say the federal databases it uses are so error-prone that many legal immigrants and citizens are mistakenly disqualified.

'The program should be canceled,' John Verdi, a lawyer at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said Wednesday. 'You have hundreds of thousands of Americans who are impacted. The impact can range from a small hassle to a loss of employment.'

The Homeland Security agency says the program is 94 percent accurate, but Verdi said that still means about 9 million workers could incorrectly be ruled ineligible for employment.

Immigration groups also say the program is flawed and Congress instead should overhaul the immigration system.

'The fact that E-Verify was reauthorized for three years as a voluntary program shows that Congress is not ready to embrace wholeheartedly a mandatory expansion of the program,' said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.


E-Verify gets extension and more money in spending bill
Employment verification program would get $137 million funding
By Alice Lipowicz
Washington Technology, October 22, 2009