Contractors must screen for illegal immigrants

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Executive Order

The Bush administration is requiring that all companies hired to perform work for federal agencies use an electronic verification system to ensure that their employees are legally eligible to work in the United States.

Under an executive order issued June 6, companies must check the legal work status of employees hired to work domestically during the term of the federal contract and all employees assigned by the contractor to work in the United States on the federal contract.

White House officials said the verification was needed to “promote economy and efficiency in federal procurement [because] contractors that employ illegal aliens cannot rely on the continuing availability and service of those illegal workers.” On June 9, the Homeland Security Department designated its online E-Verify system for use in the verification process.

The administration has been pushing the private sector to use E-Verify as part of its ongoing effort to crack down on illegal immigration. According to DHS, 69,000 employers already use the system to determine that new hires are eligible to work in the United States, and in the current fiscal year, employers have run more than 4 million employment-verification queries.

However, critics of E-Verify say the program should not be expanded and that using it to screen all government contractors could overwhelm the Social Security Administration, which verifies the identities and eligibility of workers through E-Verify.

The Human Resource Initiative for a Legal Workforce, a group pressing for employment verification reform, criticized the decision to use E-Verify, which depends on paper-based identity documents rather than a biometric verification system.

The American Civil Liberties Union also criticized the decision to extend E-Verify to contractors. ACLU officials said the program would exacerbate problems SSA has with backlogs and errors in records.

"It will cause enormous turmoil and economic distress for the poor workers who wrongly lose their jobs due to erroneous government data or whose identity is borrowed by an undocumented immigrant who is desperate to work," said Timothy Sparapani, ACLU's senior legislative counsel.

Executive agencies use E-Verify to check the status of all new federal hires, DHS said. A notice of proposed rulemaking will be published in the Federal Register to announce the decision to expand E-Verify, and public comments will be accepted for 60 days.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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