WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bill that would require employers to electronically verify the immigration status of potential employees was introduced on Tuesday.
Its sponsor said it would help Americans get jobs while one critical group said it would hurt businesses and immigrant employees.
The measure calls for an expansion of the E-Verify system created under immigration legislation in 1996 and subsequently extended, said a statement from the office of Representative Lamar Smith, House Judiciary Committee Chairman and sponsor of the bill.
"E-Verify is a successful program to help ensure that jobs are reserved for citizens and legal workers," the Texas Republican said in the statement.
"Despite record unemployment, seven million people work in the U.S. illegally. These jobs should go to legal workers," Smith said.
The proposed Legal Workforce Act, or H.R. 2164, repeals the current paper-based I-9 system and gradually phases in mandatory participation for most employers.
In the agricultural sector, workers would only be subject to an E-Verify check within 36 months of the date of enactment, the statement said, and a seasonal agricultural worker is not considered a new hire if the individual starts work with an employer for whom he or she has previously worked.
The bill is likely to come under fire from immigration rights groups. One that has already spoken out against the bill is the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, citing a GAO report outlining E-Verify system errors and prohibitive costs.
"Mandatory E-Verify would immediately signify massive red-tape for small businesses, economic setback for industries desperately trying to get back on their feet, and prove disastrous for millions of hard-working immigrant employees and their U.S.-born loved ones," CHIRLA executive director Angelica Salas said in a statement.
"To put it bluntly: In this recovering economy and with our flailing immigration system, we need mandatory E-Verify like we need endodontic therapy," she said.
(Reporting by Wendell Marsh; Editing by Jerry Norton)