It is difficult to imagine anything being left out of a bill that weighs in at $787 billion. But a provision that would have required companies receiving stimulus funding to sign up for a government-run electronic worker verification system was scuttled during House-Senate negotiations. The measure could have increased the number of firms, especially in the construction industry, using the system. About 87,000 employers have signed up for the voluntary program, known as E-Verify, which checks new-hire information from I-9 forms against Social Security and Department of Homeland Security databases.
Employer groups are generally relieved by the outcome. They have long criticized the system for being inaccurate, inefficient and unable to detect identity theft.
Despite its stimulus demise, E-Verify will remain on the congressional radar. The program is due to expire March 6. A separate provision that would have reauthorized it also was struck from the stimulus package.
E-Verify proponents say the system confirms 96 percent of queries instantly and has an error rate of less than 1 percent. Employer advocates argue that the 4.1 percent error rate in the Social Security database could lead to millions of people being incorrectly ruled ineligible for work.
It’s hard to predict when Washington will turn its attention to immigration reform. It was highlighted by Senate Democratic leaders as one of the items at the top of their agenda.
But the collapsing economy has been the focus of Capitol Hill so far. In the meantime, it’s not just E-Verify that will be in limbo. Many companies, largely in the technology sector, probably won’t get the increase in employment visas that they desire.