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New Chapter Set to Begin for E-Verify Policy

On Sept. 1, all potential hires for any state agency or public university must have their work eligibility information run through E-Verify. If that sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. This story is part of our 31 Days, 31 Ways series.

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Throughout August, The Texas Tribune will feature 31 ways Texans' lives will change because of new laws that take effect Sept. 1. Check out our story calendar for more.

All potential hires for any state agency or public college will soon have their work eligibility information run through an electronic employment verification system managed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Senate Bill 374, by state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, is designed to keep taxpayer dollars from going to workers who aren’t authorized to be in the country. The system, known as E-Verify, compares information applicants submit on their I-9 — a federal document that collects employment eligibility information — to records maintained by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration.

If the upcoming policy — which takes effect Sept. 1 — sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. Schwertner’s bill closely resembles an executive order former Gov. Rick Perry issued in November 2014. But SB 374 adjusts the policy and makes it official state law.

The Previous Policy 

Under Perry’s mandate, applicants for jobs at state agencies under the purview of the governor’s office must have their information run through the E-Verify. The requirement also extended to employees of businesses that had contracts with the state.

The policy has operated on the honor system since November because Perry’s order did not specify an agency or department to oversee the mandate and ensure compliance.

Perry’s order also caused some confusion because he initially ordered that current and future employees needed to be run through the system. But according to federal guidelines, verifying current employees’ information through E-Verify is not allowed. Perry’s office had to subsequently issue a clarification.

Future Policy

Under SB 374, potential hires at state agencies and public colleges will still have to be vetted by the E-Verify system, but the policy no longer applies to employees of businesses contracting with the state. The legislation had support from Gov. Greg Abbott and sailed through both chambers of the Legislature.

Asked during the session why Abbott backed a bill that didn’t include requirements for state contractors, his staff said the legislation was consistent with what Abbott said on the campaign trail.

“Texas should require all state agencies to make use of E-Verify,” Abbott’s campaign literature explained. “Doing so will impose no burdens on the private market but will place appropriate checks on the hiring of persons not lawfully present in the United States by public institutions.”

Schwertner’s bill also adds to Perry’s mandate by designating an agency to make sure employers are following the new rule. Beginning next month, the Texas Workforce Commission will be charged with making sure SB 374 is followed.

Where Texas Stands

Texas belongs to a group of 22 states that have some version of an E-Verify mandate, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But Texas was the only state in the group that waited until 2015 to pass an E-Verify bill, and nine states go even further by requiring that all employers use E-Verify. Those states are Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.

Though SB 374 only applies to state agencies and public universities, tens of thousands of private businesses in Texas have been using E-Verify for several years. The USCIS has a database of all the companies that use the system. It shows whether the business has a contract with the federal government, where it is located and its size.

Texas' adoption of an E-Verify policy marks a shift from where state leaders stood on the issue just a few years ago. As recently as 2013, there was conservative opposition to any type of statewide mandate because of concerns over the accuracy of the system. Others balked at the thought of an unfunded mandate. In 2015, however, the policy became more palatable because the policy only extended to state agencies and not the private sector. 

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