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Lancaster requires businesses to do immigration checks on new hires

December 29, 2009 |  6:52 am

Businesses operating in the city of Lancaster will be required to ensure that all their new hires are eligible to work in the United States by using an Internet-based federal program to check the immigration and employment eligibility of potential workers.

The free online program, called E-Verify, allows participating employers to use federal databases to compare information provided by job seekers with millions of records kept by the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

“We are working to ensure that all available jobs in our city go to hard-working, law-abiding citizens,” Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said in a statement, noting that tough economic times had led to 17% unemployment in the Antelope Valley.

By adopting the E-Verify program, businesses in Lancaster will join a growing number of companies nationwide that use federal data to confirm the eligibility of potential new hires. According to the Department of Homeland Security, more than 175,000 employers are enrolled in the program, which is compulsory for companies that contract with the federal government.

More than 8.5 million queries were run through the system in fiscal year 2009, government statistics indicate. And so far in fiscal year 2010, there have been more than 2.5 million queries. Although some states, such as Arizona, have mandated the use of E-Verify, in California the program is voluntary.

Data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services show there are at least 11,000 California companies, including restaurants, hospitals and temporary-employment agencies, enrolled in the program.

In August, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to explore the possibility of requiring future contractors to participate in E-Verify. These could include drug-treatment facilities, construction companies and foster-family agencies.

Critics of the program argue that it could lead to racial profiling and inappropriate firings causes by mistakes in the federal databases. But supporters believe the increased scrutiny of potential new hires could help diminish the presence of illegal immigrants in the workforce.

Companies that do not comply with Lancaster’s ordinance requiring the use of E-Verify risk having their business license revoked, officials said. “It is absolutely essential that our local businesses comply with the law when choosing whom to employ,” said Parris.

-- Ann M. Simmons