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Calling it “misguided, premature, and unwarranted,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has issued a report against a proposal requiring federal contractors to use an online system to verify employees’ immigration status. The Chamber submitted 26 pages of comments this week regarding a proposed rule that would require federal contractors to participate in E-Verify, also called the Basic Pilot Program. The program is intended to screen out illegal aliens by matching employee names with Social Security numbers. The program was launched in 1994 as a voluntary online tool for employers. But in June, President Bush signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to use the system. The change would also expand the program’s use beyond new hires to some existing employees. Some states have also tried to require employers to use the system, prompting a number of lawsuits. In its comments, Chamber officials said Bush and Congress did not have the authority to require the use of the program, which was created as a voluntary program. The program’s estimated cost of about $10 billion of year has also not been accounted for, as well as the “unacceptable administrative burdens” on federal employers, the report said. The mandatory program presents a number of other problems, such as that it is unmanageable, uses an overly broad definition for a federal contractor and would be difficult to implement, the report said. “While we fully appreciate the purpose of the proposed regulation, it contravenes the intent of Congress to make participation in this program voluntary and is not justified by the general procurement powers of the President,” Randel Johnson, vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits at the Chamber, said in a news release. With more than 3 million businesses and organizations as members, the Chamber is the world’s largest business federation. More than 69,000 employers are enrolled in E-Verify, with more than 4 million queries run so far in fiscal year 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which operates the program along with the Social Security Administration. Amy Kudwa, a DHS spokeswoman, said she found the Chamber’s estimated $10 billion cost for the program difficult to understand as the online tool is free to use. She said that in 95% of cases, work authorization is returned instantly and fewer than 1% of cases have errors. Kudwa said the program has recently undergone improvements in a number of areas, such as to verify the work eligibility of naturalized citizens. “Across the country, employers sign up for the program on an average of 1,000 a week, which speaks to the value of the program,” she said. Kudwa said the department will consider all comments before issuing the final proposal in coming months. E-Verify has become a major tool for those seeking to eliminate employment of foreign nationals who do not have authorization to work in the United States. Opponents of the program have said it has a number of errors, leads to delays and is unmanageable.

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