A battle has begun behind the scenes over whether companies that would benefit from the economic stimulus package before the Senate should be required to use the federal E-Verify system to keep illegal immigrants out of their workforces. The clash could erupt on the Senate floor this week.
The battle pits immigrant advocates against proponents of stiffer enforcement of the immigration laws, who want to require firms receiving contracts under the stimulus bill to use E-Verify, which checks databases maintained by the Social Security Administration and the Homeland Security Department to determine the legal status of employees.
"We didn't expect immigration at all to be on the stimulus package. We didn't think we were going to have this whole fight on immigration and E-Verify," said Angelo Amador, director of immigration policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber opposes adding an E-Verify requirement to the stimulus.
There is no federal mandate requiring businesses to use E-Verify, although some states require companies to do so. Homeland Security has issued a regulation that would require most federal contractors to use the program, but the effort has stalled due to legal challenges and is not slated to go into effect until May. Lawmakers battled last year over setting E-Verify requirements but could only agree to reauthorize the program until March.
Amador said the Chamber and allies among immigrant advocates support a five-year extension of E-Verify and its voluntary use by federal contractors but want GAO to study the program's error rates and what could be done to fix its flaws. "They're trying to mandate it without really doing an analysis of what this program does," Amador said.
Those who want the stimulus bill to require companies to use E-Verify argue that doing so would protect jobs for U.S. workers. "It is critical that the stimulus legislation include provisions to require the use of E-Verify when hiring workers to fill jobs created by the proposal," Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., wrote in a letter last week to Senate Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell. "The inclusion of such a provision will be a key factor as we evaluate the merits of the stimulus package and gauge our support."
The House version of the stimulus bill already includes the provision, which was added as an amendment by Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga. "We cannot allow for illegal aliens to benefit from this deficit spending. The American taxpayer will one day be forced to pay it back so it should be them that benefit," Kingston said. Even though his amendment was included, he ultimately did not vote for the House package.