By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 30, 2009
The Obama administration is delaying a planned crackdown on federal contractors that hire illegal immigrants to determine if the electronic system set up to check workers' documents can handle the surge in workload, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said yesterday.
The federal government planned to require all contractors to use that government system, known as E-Verify, to screen all workers on contracts worth more than $100,000 after Jan. 15, but the Bush administration delayed the rule until Feb. 20 because of a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This week, the new administration postponed it until May 21 to give itself "an adequate opportunity to review the rule."
"I believe in E-Verify. I believe it has to be an integral part of our immigration enforcement system," Napolitano said. "The review is intended to see what needs to be done to increase the capacity for the E-Verify system, how quickly that can be done."
The rule, proposed last June, is expecte d to roughly double the number of U.S. employers -- from about 100,000 -- that use E-Verify. Participation is now voluntary for employers and used only for new hires, covering about 11 percent of hiring.
U.S. Chamber spokesman Robin Conrad said that in light of the "stressed economy," the organization is hopeful that the administration "will agree that E-Verify is the wrong solution at the wrong time."
House Republicans criticized the move. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee, issued a statement saying, "It is ironic that at the same time President Obama was pushing for passage of the stimulus package to help the unemployed, his Administration delayed implementation of a rule designed to protect jobs for U.S. citizens and legal workers."