SHRM Lobbies for Better Federal Database for Employment Verification

Members of the Society for Human Resource Management have plenty of business in Washington regardless of whether they’ve traveled to the nation’s capital this week to attend its annual conference.

The society’s governmental affairs unit is mobilizing members to get involved in the growing immigration debate before a new law could force employers to screen individuals they wish to recruit against a flawed federal employment verification database.

SHRM is circulating a “Federal Legislation Action Alert” calling on members to call or write their representatives in the United States Senate and House of Representatives and urge them to revise the employment verification provisions of two immigration-reform bills now awaiting action by a House-Senate conference committee. Discuss federal legislation online.

The House and Senate have each passed immigration reform bills that call for creating an electronic employment verification system using the Basic Pilot Program, a voluntary federal program that enables employers to tap Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration databases to quickly verify whether new recruits can work legally in this country.

More than 6,000 private-sector employers are currently using the Basic Pilot Program to screen candidates in the recruiting process. But SHRM opposes its inclusion in the proposed electronic employment verification system legislation because, as an August 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office) found, it produces errors in 15% of initial verification queries. In some cases, the program can mistakenly label some legal workers as illegal.

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Testimony at a Senate hearing in Washington yesterday, also citing a GAO report, indicated that enforcement of existing workplace immigration law has declined significantly since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

SHRM’s HR Voice also expressed concern that the pending bills may not allow employers enough time to apply for and receive confirmation from the federal government that an individual is eligible for employment. That’s especially critical given lingering questions about the Basic Pilot Program’s capacity to handle a potential huge increase in the volume of employer immigration queries if its use becomes law, and the bills’ increased civil and criminal penalties of up to $40,000 in fines and/or imprisonment for repeat violations.

The SHRM statement calls for Congress to “craft a system that is administratively easy to use, expedites the employment verification process, creates no new employer liabilities for using the system, and restores integrity to our immigration system.”

SHRM is making it easy for members to have their voices heard on the issue. It’s asking members to log onto the Government Affairs section of SHRM.org and click on HR Voice to contact their elected officials. The society is hoping its members can favorably influence the eventual consensus bill that emerges from both houses of Congress before it ultimately is forwarded to President Bush for his consideration.

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