WASHINGTON – Earlier this week, Lamar Smith, House Judiciary Committee Chairman (R-TX), introduced the “Legal Workforce Act of 2011.” The act, which the American Meat Institute applauds, amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to make the electronic eligibility verification system (E-Verify) mandatory and permanent and creates a voluntary pilot program for biometric identity verification.

Several modifications to the current E-Verify system are proposed within the plan. The bill limits documentation of legal status to unexpired passports, unexpired permanent resident cards or employment authorization cards (with photos), or a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated card containing a photo, biometric data, employment authorization number and anti-tamper security features. Applicants may also use a Social Security Number (SSN) Card or State Department-issued Certificate of Birth Abroad if presented with an unexpired driver’s license, military ID or tribal ID.

Under the legislation re-verification of employees of the federal, state or local government, employees would be limited to “critical infrastructure sites,” employees performing work under federal or state contracts and employees who have previously had mismatched or problematic SSNs. Firms selling commercially available, off- the shelf products, which would include food and agricultural products, would be exempt.

Smith’s bill considers an entity to have complied with the system notwithstanding a technical or procedural failure if there was a good faith effort to comply. The bill states an employer who establishes it is good-faith compliance shall not be liable to applicants, employees or federal, state or local government for actions taken in good-faith reliance on information provided by the system.

Smith’s bill also directs the Social Security Administration to establish with DHS a system that compares name and SSN data, reports whether the SSN is valid and to update the date in the system in a prompt manner. It also directs DHS to make payments to the SSA for costs involved in implementing and operating such a system. It gives DHS and SSA authority to block SSNs subject to unusual multiple use.

A pilot program allowing DHS to develop a program in consultation with SSA and the National Institute for Standards & Technology is also included in the Smith bill. The program will provide for identity authentication utilizing the services of private sector entities, using biometric data maintained by SSA and DHS and encrypted to protect applicants. The pilot program is substantively similar to the Secure Electronic Employment Verification System proposed by AMI.

“AMI applauds Chairman Smith’s efforts to improve the electronic employment verification system through the introduction of H.R.2164, the Legal Workforce Act,” said J. Patrick Boyle, AMI president and CEO. “This legislation is a critical first step in providing a practical and functional worksite electronic employment verification system that is vital to achieving a stable, legal workforce.”