The Obama administration has postponed until May 21, 2009, a rule that would require federal contractors to check if newly hired employees are documented immigrants.
The announcement comes at a time when lawmakers are pressing for requirements for companies receiving funds through the economic stimulus bill to check the citizenship of workers they hire. The House passed its stimulus bill on Wednesday, Jan. 28.
The E-Verify rule would require government contractors to use the Homeland Security Department's E-Verify system to check the immigration status of all employees on projects exceeding $100,000 and on subcontracts that exceed $3,000. The rule was scheduled to become effective Jan. 15, but five business interest groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, filed suit to delay implementation until Feb. 20.
On Friday, Jan. 30, a notice in the Federal Register (Vol. 74, No. 19) announced that the effective date of the rule would be extended to May 21, “in order to permit the new Administration an adequate opportunity to review the rule.”
"The federal government agreed that the new administration needs time to rethink mandatory E-Verify use, particularly in light of the stressed economy," Robin Conrad, executive vice president of the National Chamber Litigation Center at the Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. "We are hopeful that the incoming administration will agree that E-Verify is the wrong solution at the wrong time."
New Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, however, told The Washington Post that she believed in E-Verify and that the delay would be used to determine if the system is capable of handling the surge in workload that would result from the new rule.
The delay would give the Obama administration an opportunity to review the rule before it's widely applied to the private sector, said a spokesman with the Citizenship and Immigration Service, which manages E-Verify. The administration asked all agencies to put a hold on pending regulations until they can be reviewed. The spokesman also said the E-Verify system, which processed almost 6 million queries in fiscal 2008, has been tested to handle at least 10 times that amount.
"It would take resources, but the system could handle it," the spokesman told nextgov.com. "[E-Verify] could handle at least 65 million queries a year."
Agencies have been required to use E-Verify to check employees' immigration status since August 2007. The new rule that makes the program mandatory for contractors was proposed in an executive order signed by then-President Bush last June.
In addition to the contractor requirement, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been pressing in recent weeks to require companies receiving funds from the economic stimulus package to use E-Verify to ensure employees hired are eligible to work in the United States.