The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced new initiatives to “strengthen the efficiency and accuracy” of the E-Verify system. Currently, there are approximately 189,000 employers using the E-Verify system. DHS hopes that with the further enhancements in the E-Verify system, more employers will be inclined to use this optional system. However, because the system requires employers to complete an additional step in the employment eligibility verification process which is not mandatory, many employers are not willing to use this optional system.
The new initiatives announced by DHS include a new agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that will streamline the adjudication process in cases of E-Verify misuse and discrimination; the establishment of an informational telephone hotline for employees seeking additional information about E-Verify; and training videos focusing on E-Verify procedures and policies, employees rights and employers responsibilities in English and Spanish.
Additionally, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) E-Verify helpline will now provide employers and employees with assistance in completing the Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification form. The helpline will also assist employees to file complaints about possible discrimination in the E-Verify process. The USCIS helpline telephone number is (888) 897-7781. However, this helpline telephone number will not become available until at least April 5, 2010. It is currently unknown as to the level of assistance that the contractors who will be answering the calls through this helpline will be able to provide employers and employees due to the intricacies of the Form I-9 process. It is assumed that for more complicated questions, the contractors may suggest that employers and employees continue to consult with legal counsel in order to minimize potential liability in the Form I-9 process. The USCIS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have not indicated that they will create a “safe harbor exception” in an ICE Form I-9 enforcement action. Any information (whether accurate or inaccurate) provided by the contractors through the helpline which is relied upon by employers. Therefore, ICE could potentially use inaccurate information provided by the contractors and relied upon by employers against the employer when assessing penalties during a Form I-9 enforcement section.