U.S. Begins Immigration Crackdown on Federal Contractors

Fox News
The Associated Press
Tuesday, September 08, 2009

For federal contractors, it is time to start checking whether employees are able to work legally in the United States.

Beginning Tuesday (today), the U.S. government was requiring federal contractors to use the E-Verify system to check the immigration and citizenship status of the people they hire and assign to new federal contracts.

"Don't panic about this. You do have time, but the time will pass quickly, so vigilance is important," Bonnie Gibson, a partner with New York-based Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy law firm, told hundreds of contractors who dialed in to a conference call last week for an explanation of the Obama administration's latest immigration enforcement rule.

Contractors have 30 days from the date a contract is awarded to enroll in E-Verify, and 90 days to start submitting information on new hires and certain current workers. Contractors have the option of checking their entire work force, once they notify the government of their intent to do so. They also will be responsible for requiring subcontractors to use E-Verify.

As the rule takes effect and more workers' information goes through the system, there is likely to be a spike in the number of workers who are not confirmed as permitted to work in the United States, said Cynthia Lange, a partner of Fragomen law firm, who is based in California.

Employers already use paper applications, known as I-9s, to check workers' legal status. E-Verify is a Web-based system that crosschecks names and other information against Homeland Security Department and Social Security Administration databases. Social Security is a federal program to which all workers in the United States pay with the expectation of receiving pensions on retirement.

E-Verify is intended to help find people who are in the country illegally, and those who are legally present but not authorized to work, such as students.

Generally, the new federal rule applies to hires for contracts of $100,000 or more and are awarded as of Sept. 8, last longer than 120 days and do not involve commercially available products. There will be some exceptions. Businesses with contracts that are current, significant and indefinite also may have to check the status of workers.

Bill Wright, spokesman for the Homeland Security Department's Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the agency is not expected to be flooded with queries on employees' immigration status. He said there are about 169,000 U.S. federal contractors with about 3.8 million workers.

As of Aug. 29, 145,653 employers were using the E-Verify system. About 1,000 employers enroll every week. The system has handled 7.6 million queries on workers since Oct. 1 of last year, Wright said.

"If all contracts were let and we had to verify them all on Sept. 8, this system could handle it. This is not going to be the scenario, so there is no reason to step up resources here," he said.

Among the E-Verify system's flaws are limited ability to determine whether a worker is using a stolen identity and spelling mistakes involving names, marital status and the like.

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