House Passes E-Verify Legislation, Immigration Screening Rules Continue To Be Concern

By Erika Schnitzer, Associate EditorWashington, D.C.–The House of Representatives has passed a bill to extend the E-Verify system for five years. The program is a voluntary Internet-based system that compares information from I-9 forms against government records to determine an individual’s work status in the U.S.If the Senate does not pass the bill, currently called H.R. 6633, the system will expire on November 1. Currently, private employers may volunteer to use the system. However, two new bills that have been introduced would make it mandatory for all employers, federal or private, to screen potential employees for immigration status.With the enforcement of immigration laws an increasing priority in the Bush administration, all businesses have become more aware of laws prohibiting employers from knowingly hiring an individual who is not authorized to work in the U.S. For apartment firms, this means being aware of screening rules for both employees and residents.“We are concerned about immigration screening requirements because of our residents,” says Betsy Feigin Befus, vice president of employment policy & special counsel, NMHC. “There is some level of concern in the apartment industry about obligations to screen residents.” The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initially issued a regulation, set to go into effect last September, informing employers of steps they must take when they receive a no-match letter, which informs them of discrepancies between employer and government records. Under the proposed ruling, receipt of the letter could be used as evidence to show that the employer did, in fact, knew of the employee’s illegal status. Employers could be faced with civil or criminal charges if  they failed to terminate the employee in question.The database used to provide this information, however, has been known to contain errors, asserts Befus. Thus, an employee could be terminated despite the fact that he is actually permitted to work in the U.S.  A number of organizations, including NMHC and NAA, opposed this ruling and it was effectively blocked by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. “It doesn’t make sense to require mandatory use of a system that is still fraught with errors and can’t be relied upon,” explains Befus. “It’s as much about sound practices and doing what works and makes sense.”The topic of immigration screening rules will be discussed at NMHC’s Legal Issues Colloquium, entitled “Immigration Status Screening: Identifying Practices that Are Legally Required and Those That Make Smart Business Sense for Both Employee and Resident Checks.”