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CT Union Opposes Electronic ID Bill

July 6, 2011

HARTFORD, Conn. - Congress is pondering a bill that would require employers to use E-Verify, an electronic identification system aimed at finding and firing undocumented workers. Its use is now mandatory only for government contractors.

A 5,000-member union local in Connecticut is speaking out against the bill, saying the federal government's own studies show that E-Verify makes a lot of errors. If it's required for all employers, says Kurt Westby, district leader for Local 32 BJ of the Service Employees International Union, even more mistakes will be made.

"Up to 4 million American workers will have to correct the government's database, which is a computer program that doesn't work correctly; 4 million Americans that should not have problems and who are citizens."

Businesses tend to support the bill because it holds them harmless for hiring ineligible workers if they use E-Verify in good faith. The bill, the Legal Workforce Act, has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by the bill's sponsor, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas.

Civil-liberties and privacy groups also oppose the bill. Its passage, Westby says, could have an especially damaging effect on agriculture, where immigrant workers are concentrated. He also doesn't believe it will do anything to create jobs for citizens.

"Whichever undocumented workers are doing that work, and assuming this system scares them away or puts them in jail, or sends them to their home countries, who's going to do the work?"

Despite high unemployment rates in Connecticut and around the country, farm employers say most native-born Americans are not willing to do the types of low-paying hard labor their industry requires.

Text of the bill, HR 2164, is online at 1.usa.gov.

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - CT