Disputed E-Verify rules go into effect

A coalition of business groups continued to wage a legal battle Tuesday as a government mandate took effect requiring federal contractors to verify the immigration status of employees working on government projects.

After months of delay, the Homeland Security Department implemented a rule requiring most federal contractors and subcontractors to use its E-Verify system to prove employees working on government projects are legally in the country.

The path to implementing the mandate cleared Friday when the U.S. District Court for the Southern Division of Maryland refused to grant a business coalition led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce an emergency injunction that would prevent the rule from taking effect.

"Any contractor that lets a contract on or after today requires the E-Verify clause in that contract," said Bill Wright, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services, which operates E-Verify, a system that compares employee information to department and Social Security databases.

Nonetheless, the business coalition is challenging the court ruling at the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, said Angelo Amador, the Chamber's executive director for immigration policy.

"The rule going into effect today will cost millions of dollars for some employers to implement, as they reverify every single employee -- costs that will ultimately be borne by the American people, which pay the taxes used for federal contracts," Amador said.

But Wright noted several nuances in the rule. For example, it does not apply to businesses with contracts worth less than $100,000; contracts that involve the procurement of commercially available equipment; and to subcontractors working on projects valued under $3,000.

And it only applies to contracts within the United States. Additionally, contractors will have 30 days to sign up for E-Verify and then 90 days to verify the employment status of their workers.

There are about 170,000 federal contractors employing about 3.8 million workers, Wright said. "Obviously there won't be 169,000 federal contractors signing a contract today," he said. "There's plenty of ample time to learn the system [and] get your questions answered."

As of Saturday, about 150,000 employers nationwide had signed up to participate in E-Verify, according to Wright's agency.

On a related front, congressional authorization for the E-Verify program expires at the end of September. But lawmakers already have taken action through the pending fiscal 2010 Homeland Security appropriations bills to reauthorization the program.

The House version of the appropriations bill would extend it for two years, while the Senate version would reauthorize it permanently.

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