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Critics fear undocumented workers will take advantage of shutdown

Published October 2, 2013 7:20 pm

E-Verify • Online system to verify legal status also closed with government.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Among programs shut down because of the congressional budget stalemate is the online E-Verify system, which allows employers to ensure that new hires are in the country legally. Some anti-illegal immigration groups worry suspension of E-Verify could allow undocumented workers to slip through normal safeguards into U.S. jobs.

Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a pro-enforcement group on immigration, complained that amid the federal shutdown resources were found "to move forward with Obamacare" and its online insurance signup but not the online E-Verify.

"It's a sign that putting Americans back to work is never the top priority of this president or Republicans or Democrats in Congress," Beck said. He worries the federal government may not require employers to retroactively use E-Verify for anyone they hire during the federal shutdown. "That would be a grave mistake."

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services sent an email to employers nationwide saying E-Verify will be unavailable as long as the federal government is shut down.

The agency said that means employers will not be able to do such things as "verify employment eligibility," "view or take action on any case," and "run reports." It adds that customer support is unavailable. "You may send e-mails, however we cannot respond until we reopen," the agency wrote.

The email added that the normal rule for employers to check names of new hires within three days on E-Verify is suspended for now, and the normal eight days for employers to resolve "tentative nonconfirmations" of people apparently here illegally is extended indefinitely while the shutdown continues.

It added, "Employers may not take any adverse action against an employee" whose case remains unresolved because of the shutdown.

Utah law requires employers with more than 15 workers to use E-Verify, but includes no penalties for those who fail to do so. However, those who use it and certify such use to a separate state database are shielded from civil liability for the hiring of any undocumented workers while using the system.

Nic Dunn, spokesman for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said the E-Verify shutdown "shouldn't affect hiring at all. Employers throughout the state will still be able to hire" by filling out I-9 immigration forms instead, where employees certify that they are here legally.

He said the state government is doing that, and applicants "bring in original documents like birth certificates, picture IDs [and] Social Security cards" for the Form I-9. "That's what they did before E-Verify was implemented."

But Ron Mortensen, a fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies, says reverting to the old method is inadequate.

"The problem with the I-9 Form is you can use false documents for it. I can claim I am Ron Mortensen but give them your Social Security number.... E-Verify makes sure the name, birth date and Social Security number all match."

Mortensen said he hopes the government will make employers retroactively check E-Verify for anyone hired during the shutdown. But Dunn said that is unclear from instructions from federal immigration officials so far.

Beck also worries the federal government might not require retroactive E-Verify checks and simply rely instead on the I-9 forms for the shutdown period. "We would have to put up a real outcry on that. We're going to watch that."

Beck said if retroactive E-Verify checks are required, "I think we can escape damage."

But Mortensen said even that could "work a hardship on the employer in the sense that they [new hires] may be on the job for two or three weeks and they may find they need to terminate them."

Mortensen wonders why E-Verify is part of the shutdown.

"My question is why an automated program cannot work during a government shutdown. They advertise it can come back with an almost instantaneous result. If there is a problem, then you have to work through it. But 98 percent of them are approved the first time through."