Coalition targets employer verification in immigration bill

A business coalition that did not participate in talks leading to a bipartisan agreement on immigration has launched what it terms a grassroots campaign among employers urging the Senate to revise the deal.

Business groups that participated in talks leading to the deal also have expressed unhappiness with the agreement, but the relative distance the HR Coalition for a Legal Workforce kept from the discussions makes it easier for it to generate public opposition. The coalition comprises tech firms, manufacturers and human resource organizations, and it has focused solely on employment verification requirements.

The group aims to generate thousands of calls to senators this week from individual HR managers and other business owners asking them to change the proposed mandatory employment verification system. The coalition is hosting a Web cast Monday for members to describe the new employer responsibilities under the immigration deal. It also will set up a toll-free number for employers to call and be connected with their senators. Next week, the group will launch an ad campaign.

Society for Human Resource Management Director of Government Affairs Mike Aitken, who chairs the coalition, said the Homeland Security Department would have to enroll 30,000 employers a day in its now voluntary "Basic Pilot" electronic employment verification system to meet Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's 18-month deadline for implementing the mandatory system. "That's laughable," he said.

Under the immigration package, the new guestworker program could not begin until the employment verification system is in place, and Chertoff told lawmakers he could meet the enforcement demands within 18 months of enactment.

The coalition also plans to outline other new employer responsibilities under the bill, such as a requirement to maintain both paper and electronic versions of worker documents. "The increase in administrative workload on employers is, I would argue, tenfold," Aitken said. "All it does is put together a nice little portfolio for DHS to nail employers on paperwork violations."

Ben Schneider contributed to this report.

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