Bill would require electronic background checks for employment

A bill introduced Tuesday by House Judiciary chairman Lamar Smith
(R-Texas) would require firms to use an electronic system to verify new
hires are eligible to work in the United States.

The Legal Workforce Act would require all U.S. employers to use the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify system two years after passage. The system checks the social security numbers of new hires against government databases to ensure they can work in the U.S. legally.

{mosads}“With unemployment at 9%, jobs are scarce. Despite record unemployment, seven million people work in the U.S. illegally. These jobs should go to legal workers,” Smith said in a statement.

“E-Verify is a successful program to help ensure that jobs are reserved for citizens and legal workers. The ‘E’ in E-Verify could just as well stand for ‘easy’ and ‘effective.’”

But civil liberties advocates including the ACLU are staunch opponents of both the legislation and E-Verify, arguing the program is error-prone and the bill encroaches on the privacy of citizens that have done nothing wrong by collecting their biometric information.

“Under E-Verify, American workers would be involuntarily signing up for never-ending digital surveillance that starts with employment and will spread to many parts of their lives,” said ACLU legislative counsel Christopher Calabrese.

“The fact that the bill begins to create a biometric national ID card, with information such as a fingerprint, hand scan or iris scan, demonstrates its complete disregard for privacy.”

DHS officials have worked to reduce the number of mistakes, but the ACLU maintains the error rate is unacceptable because it results in legal workers being blacklisted from the job market.

“The bill would be a nightmare for workers with few remedies for those
who are harmed by these errors and no mechanism to easily fix errors,”
said Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington office.

However, at a hearing on legislation Tuesday, Smith said the bill’s measures constitute common sense, pointing out that more than a quarter million employers including most federal contractors currently use the system.

“You have to show your Social Security number to visit the doctor, go to the bank, or buy a home,” Smith said. “It makes sense that businesses would use the same identification to ensure they have a legal workforce by checking the legal status of their employees.”

Smith cited data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, which manages the E-Verify program, showing that 98.3 percent of employees were confirmed as work authorized within 24 hours.

A separate 2009 Westat report found individuals that are eligible to work are immediately confirmed 99.5 percent of the time. The remaining half a percent would have to prove to USCIS that they are work eligible, a delay the bill’s opponents argue could cost those workers job opportunities.

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