By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
The employee immigration status verification system known as E-Verify –hailed by conservatives, criticized by immigrant advocates– expired Friday. But the Senate was poised to renew it through Sept. 30 as part of the massive spending bill it approved yesterday.
E-Verify, which allows employers to check the immigration status of new hires, has been at the center of heated arguments. But the debate is not divided along partisan lines: President Barack Obama and both Republican and Democratic legislators want to keep the system in place.
According to Gannett News Service, the Senate was poised yesterday to approve the extension until the end of September, but it also rejected an amendment to re-authorize the program for five years.
Democratic leaders opposed (Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions’) amendment because it would have slowed passage of the overall spending bill by requiring a second vote in the House.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he supports a longer extension of the program but opposes attempts to force employers to use it.
E-Verify, the paper said, “is soaring in popularity across the country, growing by 1,000 companies a week, fueled by anxiety over workplace raids and uncertainty over the future of the nation’s illegal immigrants.”
Only Arizona and Mississippi have made the system mandatory so far. Ten more states require its use to check on employees of state agencies and contractors. “But the system is also ballooning in states where it is optional, such as California, Texas, and Massachusetts,” the Globe’s Maria Sacchetti wrote.
The system has been criticized by business and labor groups, as well as immigration and civil rights advocates. They say that its less-than-perfect performance so far can lead to mistakes in checking the work authorization status of employees and that it can lead to more hirings off the books.
“We have not taken the effort to go through and fix the errors in people’s files before we use this as an enforcement tool,” said Timothy Sparapani, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Until we do, this system will be nothing more than a fanciful wish.”
The fact that E-Verify databases contain errors is not just a claim by interested parties: it is supported by official government reports, according to Media Matters. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has called for a review of the program.
On the other side, supporters say E-Verify is the way to go to ensure there is no incentive for undocumented immigrants to enter the U.S. illegally.
“It’s really doing a nice job,” Janice Kephart, national security policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies, told the Chronicle. “It’s a win for employers, a win for the country, a win for our government.”
But even boosters acknowledge the system is not ready for prime time. While it now processes about six million queries a year, it would need to process 63 million a year if it became mandatory.