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Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC




S. 3093. A bill to extend and improve the effectiveness of the employment eligibility confirmation program; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, today, I am introducing legislation to reauthorize and expand the E-verify program, a web based tool run by the Department of Homeland Security for employers across the country. Known as the Basic Pilot Program since its inception in 1996, E-verify provides employers with a process to verify the work eligibility of new hires. This program is set to expire in November of this year.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 made it unlawful for employers to knowingly hire or employ aliens not eligible to work in the United States and required employers to examine the identity and work eligibility documents of all new employees.

Employers are required to participate in a paper-based employment eligibility verification system, commonly referred to as the I-9 system, in which they examine documents presented by new hires to verify identity and work eligibility, and complete and retain I-9 verification forms. Under current law, if the documents provided by an employee reasonably appear on their face to be genuine, the employer has met its document review obligation. However, the easy availability of counterfeit documents and fake identifications has made a mockery of the law.

In 1996, Congress authorized the Basic Pilot Program to help employers verify the eligibility of their workers. Participants in this program electronically verify new hires' employment authorization through the Social Security Administration and, if necessary, the Department of Homeland Security databases.

The Basic Pilot was authorized in 5 States until an expansion of the program was agreed to by Congress in 2003. Now, all States and all employers can take advantage of this voluntary and free program.

The bill I am introducing today isn't broad expansion of the current program, which I would like to see done. I attempted to revamp E-verify in 2006 and 2007 when the Senate debated a comprehensive immigration bill. During those debates, I offered amendments to require all businesses to use E-verify rather than maintaining it as a voluntary system. Over time, I would like to see this tool as a staple in the workforce. My legislation today doesn't go that far.

My amendment in 2006 and 2007 also would have changed the verification and appeal procedures, and would have improved the ability of the Federal Government to go after employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens.

While I hope that the Congress can one day address these issues, my priority this year is the reauthorization of the E-verify program. We must not let it expire. Employers rely on it, and we must not pull the rug from under them in their attempt to abide by the law.

My legislation would extend the program indefinitely. There's no reason that we should allow this to expire in 1, 5 or 10 years. It should only expire when Congress feels the need to terminate it. Right now, over 61,000 employers use the program. That number is likely to grow, and they need to be able to know that Congress isn't going to let this program die.

Another provision in my bill would require all contractors of the U.S. Government to use E-verify, even though they have the authority to do so today. Under the original statute in 1996, the Federal Government--including the Executive and Legislative Branches--must comply with the terms and conditions of E-verify. I added this provision because I don't like the progress I am seeing from the administration to require contractors to use the program.

In August of this year, Secretary Chertoff announced a series of reforms to address border security and immigration challenges that our country faces. One of the 26 proposed reforms was to require Federal contractors to use the basic pilot program.

Specifically, Secretary Chertoff said that ``the Administration will commence a rulemaking process to require all federal contractors and vendors to use E-Verify, the federal electronic employment verification system, to ensure that their employees are authorized to work in the United States.'' I firmly believe that the Federal Government ought to lead by example, and they shouldn't wait for my bill to become law.

My bill would also allow employers to check the status of all employees, not just new hires. Since the system is voluntary, businesses should be able to use E-verify to check the work eligibility of all their employees. They would alert the Department of Homeland Security of their desire to check all employees and be required to do the checks not later than 10 days after. If an employer wants to make sure his or her labor force is lawful, or legally allowed to work in the United States, he or she should be afforded that right. Also, the Department of Homeland Security should be able to require repeat offenders of immigration law to check the status of all employees, not just new hires. My legislation would require certain employers to use E-verify if the Security has reasonable cause to believe that the employer has engaged in the hiring of undocumented workers. This provision will help us hold employers accountable.

My bill would require more information sharing between the agencies at the Department of Homeland Security. Citizenship and Immigration Service, the agency in charge of service and benefits for immigrants, runs the program. However, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has the duty to enforce immigration laws and conduct worksite enforcement. I fear that the two agencies don't communicate enough, especially when it comes to this program. While CIS will provide ICE information about employers who use E-verify upon request, this should be an automatic process. The enforcement agency is better equipped to go after those who hire illegal aliens, and they should have access to such information, including those businesses that receive final non-confirmations through the system. My bill would require CIS to report monthly to ICE.

Finally, as a Senator from a State with many rural communities, I have heard small businesses say they want a system that works and is easy to use. Many towns in Iowa and across the country want to be able to use E-verify but may not have access to computers or the Internet. The Citizenship and Immigration Service has made strides to help businesses learn the system and accommodate their lack of access. As we continue to ramp up the program and potentially make it a requirement for all employers, I would like to see the Federal Government reach out to rural areas and figure out a way to make this work. My bill would authorize the Director of U.S. CIS to establish a demonstration program that assists small businesses in verifying the employment eligibility of their newly hired employees.

In conclusion, I cannot stress enough the importance of making sure E-verify remains intact and operating for employers across the country. We need to reauthorize the program this year so that businesses can continue to abide by our immigration laws. I urge my colleagues to join me in this effort.


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