Bill calls for employment database

Immigration reform legislation scheduled for a vote in the Senate as early as this week calls for the Homeland Security Department to build an employment verification database that employers would be required to use to check workers' eligibility.

The proposed requirement, one of several controversial mandates in the Senate's compromise immigration reform package, directs DHS to launch the employment verification system within 18 months of receiving a minimum appropriation of $400 million for the job.

The legislation calls for the system design to support processing of as many as 60 million verifications annually.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office previously estimated that building and operating an employment eligibility database would cost $1.6 billion during the first five years.

The biggest expense the bill would mandate is systems integration, according to Scott Schumacher, chief scientist at software vendor Initiate Systems.

'There's really no place to go out and buy these types of systems, so you have to build them on your own,' Schumacher said.

Because of the integration work involved, the cost of any such system would typically increase as the number of users accessing the system grows, he added.
The immigration reform package's ultimate fate remains uncertain. The requirement for an employment verification system could be modified or dropped later in the legislative process, either on the Senate floor or in a possible conference committee between the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Opponents of the database proposal cited privacy problems as their main objections.

The current bill's specific language, for example, 'would give the Department of Homeland Security unlimited, open-ended access to all Social Security data, including confidential tax return information' contrary to established tax law, according to a prepared statement by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

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