June 25, 2008, 10:33PM
E-Verify gaining a bigger role in hiring
By L.M. SIXEL
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
There have been court challenges, critical government reports and predictions of dire consequences.
Unofficially the government's E-Verify system is on hold for a nationwide roll-out until the problems get sorted out. But the database program that combines records from the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security already is creeping into our lives.
For more than a decade, E-Verify has been a voluntary program that has allowed employers to determine worker eligibility by matching the names to the Social Security numbers and birth dates applicants provide.
But for more and more workers, the system is no longer voluntary.
"It's a chipping away," said immigration lawyer Judy Lee of Quan, Burdette & Perez in Houston, referring to the growing list of places E-Verify is popping up.
President Bush has signed an executive order that will require all federal contractors to run names of their employees working on a government project — both new and existing — through the E-Verify system. The rules are open for public comment until Aug. 11.
E-Verify also popped up in the proposed H2B regulations for temporary foreign workers who come to work in the United States as landscapers, welders and housekeepers.
Before a company can get permission to bring a foreign worker into the United States, it must prove no U.S. workers are available to work. Under the proposed rules, all U.S. applicants who apply for the jobs through state employment agencies must be run through E-Verify.
It's not clear from the proposal what will happen when a state agency such as the Texas Workforce Commission finds a problem.
The agency plans to send a letter to the Department of Labor next week before the open comment period ends, said Workforce Commission spokeswoman Ann Hatchitt. Until commissioners approve the letter, the Texas Workforce Commission isn't commenting.
'Over a barrel'
The back-door approach is "one of the ways the government likes to implement interesting employment regulations that it couldn't get through the private sector," said Steve Roppolo, an employment lawyer who represents management with Fisher & Phillips in Houston.
By going through federal contractors, he said, the thinking goes: "We have them over a barrel. They want to do business with us so they'll have to do it our way."
It's a lot like when the affirmative action programs were launched in the 1960s, Roppolo said. The idea is to get more employers to feel comfortable with the idea.
The state of Arizona now requires all employers to use E-Verify for new hires and successfully fought a lawsuit that would have stopped the implementation of the new state law.
But Arizona's action doesn't necessarily indicate a trend. Illinois, for instance, forbids the system from being used.
While Illinois has agreed not to begin enforcement of its ban until a lawsuit filed by the Department of Homeland Security makes it way through the courts, the conflict is causing problems for one of Roppolo's clients who has operations in both Arizona and Illinois. He has to handle the checking of the workers' legal status differently — and carefully.
A recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report found that E-Verify can't detect cases of identify fraud when a worker presents someone else's documents.
And some estimates put the error rate at 4 percent, including naturalized citizens and women who change their names when they marry.
"I'm telling employers not to sign up until the kinks get worked out," said Lee, who is concerned about errors. "Why sign up for more government regulation unless you have to?"
When there isn't a match, the individual has eight working days to contact the right federal agency and straighten out the record, according to the Department of Homeland Security's Web site.
In May, the Leadership Journal, which is published by Homeland Security, agreed that it's not "fun" to correct government records, but said that for most, it takes less than two days. And besides, they'll have to do it eventually anyway.