Critics want panel to more closely scrutinize DHS E-Verify initiative

Department has not asked advisory committee to report on program enabling employers to electronically verify the legal status of newly hired workers.

A federal panel that advises the Homeland Security Department on privacy will meet next Wednesday to continue probing the E-Verify initiative. But despite calls by critics of the program to more closely scrutinize it, there have been no calls by the department to increase oversight.

The initiative, which enables employers to electronically verify the legal status of newly hired workers, was the focus of a meeting in El Paso, Texas, in March and will be the topic of a House Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee hearing Tuesday.

The department has been pressing Congress to reauthorize the initiative, but the 19-member Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee has not been asked by DHS Chief Privacy Officer Hugo Teufel to write a report or offer an opinion on the program, a policy official said Tuesday.

Tim Sparapani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, pressed the panel at the El Paso meeting to "take action" on E-Verify, telling them they had a responsibility to scrutinize the program and that "this program is certainly not ready for prime time [and] should not go forward for a litany of reasons."

Neville Cramer, a former Immigration and Naturalization Service agent who developed the program that laid the groundwork for E-Verify said the system "is a very good one," but the trouble is "no one who runs E-Verify has a background in immigration" nor do they understand the needs of the business community. "Expanding [E-Verify] can be done very easily if it's done by the proper people in the proper way," said Cramer, whose home state of Arizona has passed a law requiring employers to use the system.

Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Policy Stewart Baker has written a series of blog posts on the department's "Leadership Journal" addressing what he believes are myths being propagated by critics of the program.

On Monday, Baker challenged the claim that E-Verify is onerous for employers, writing that the initiative is "a bit less burdensome than ordering books for the first time from" He said E-Verify was not discriminatory, writing that fears of "evil employers who disfavor certain ethnic groups" is hogwash.

In November, Baker labeled E-Verify a "remarkable success story," arguing that the number of employers using it around the country has increased markedly in each of the last few years. "It's an iron law of Washington, though, that if you actually take immigration enforcement seriously, you're going to make a lot of powerful interests angry," he wrote.

Some policy watchers who asked not to be named wondered how prudent it was for Baker to be blogging about a major DHS program that has not been vetted by the panel. Department officials did not respond to several interview requests.

"This is a huge undertaking and nobody has thought through the security consequences," one source said, noting the problem illustrates a larger concern that the privacy committee "is not really being used for anything" and is "basically a sham."

Additionally, the panel's charter, which is dated April 2004, may soon be revised in a way that worries stakeholders. They argue that a draft version of the new charter could dilute the group's authority because it states three times on the first page alone that the committee should act only on matters requested or assigned in writing by top managers at the department.