SEPTEMBER 8, 2009, 7:26 A.M. ET
Judge Rejects Bid to Delay E-Verify Mandate
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WASHINGTON -- Agencies across the federal government Tuesday will start ordering contractors to use an electronic immigration system to verify the legal status of their roughly 3.8 million workers, barring an emergency stay from a federal appeals court in Virginia.

The sweeping new mandate, crafted by the Bush White House but being implemented by the Obama administration, represents a significant expansion for the so-called E-Verify system, which government officials and independent experts expect to become mandatory for all private employers nationwide in the future.

About 169,000 federal contractors and subcontractors will eventually be covered by the program taking effect Tuesday.

U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams, Jr., of Maryland, rejected an 11th-hour-effort late Friday by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups to delay the mandate while a federal appeal is pending.

Judge Williams had in August dismissed a lawsuit by the groups seeking to have the program thrown out after the Obama administration, represented by the Justice Department, fought to keep it intact.

Two Washington-based lawyers representing the Chamber said in email messages late Friday that the groups would seek an emergency order from the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.. The aim is to have the appellate court delay the mandate from taking effect while an appeal on the merits of the Chamber's case is pending.

Under the mandate, a clause requiring contractors and subcontractors to use the government's E-Verify system will be written into every new or renewed government contract starting Tuesday. It will also be written into every new work order issued under existing contracts, officials say. It will be up to government agencies that issue the contracts to enforce the mandate.

Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president of the Professional Services Council, which represents federal contractors, said virtually all employers with federal contracts or subcontracts would see the clause within about a year. The group has been holding seminars, including one last week, to help employers get ready for the mandate.

Once a contractor is operating under the new clause, it will have to check the legal eligibility of every employee working on a government project through a secure website. The E-Verify system compares data entered by employers with records maintained in Social Security Administration and immigration databases.

While the system's error rates have fallen dramatically, it still falsely flags as illegal about 1 percent of all workers checked, because of underlying mistakes in the Social Security and immigration data, said Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, which is a non-partisan think tank in Washington. That means up to about 38,000 employees for federal contractors could have to try to get false information corrected in government databases.

Ms. Meissner said the expansion of the program for contractors could put more pressure on the government to improve the system. Another gap: While the system verifies documentation, it doesn't verify identities. That means illegal workers who use the identities of those who are authorized to work inside the U.S. are hard to catch.

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