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Confusion Over State Screening for Unauthorized Workers

State agencies are now required by law to screen potential hires through the federal E-Verify system to ensure they can legally work in the United States. But does an order by former Gov. Rick Perry still require the same for state contractors?

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Amid agency head scratching over a new law requiring state agencies to verify that they are only hiring legal workers, the Texas Department of Transportation says it plans to ask Attorney General Ken Paxton to clear up questions about the law's reach. 

Passed last session, Senate Bill 374 by state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, requires state agencies and public colleges to use the federal E-Verify system to ensure potential hires are legally eligible to work in the United States. E-Verify checks applicants against records maintained by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration.

The law went into effect September 1, and seemed to replace a mandate issued by former Gov. Rick Perry in 2014 requiring that state agencies — and private companies contracting with the state — use the system for all new hires.

Schwertner's bill didn't say anything about private contractors, and it's unclear whether Perry's mandate placing them under the E-verify umbrella lifted when the new law took effect.

Avalyn Castillo Langemeier, a lawyer and partner with Foster Global, a Houston-based immigration law firm, said one of her clients was told by the transportation department that it is still enforcing the Perry mandate on contractors.

Schwertner’s bill doesn’t specifically mention Perry’s mandate, or forbid agencies from expanding the scope of the legislation to include private contractors.

“Currently, TxDOT complies with both" the law and Perry's mandate, agency spokesperson Veronica Beyer said in an email. “In order to resolve any potential conflict between the two, we’ve been planning to seek an opinion from the Texas Attorney General on this issue and will do so soon.”

Gov. Greg Abbott supported Schwertner’s legislation even though it lacked the contractor requirement included in Perry’s mandate, a stance Abbott's staff said was consistent with his campaign for governor.

Abbott’s office declined to weigh in on TxDOT’s current practice. A spokesperson in the governor’s office said it will “respect the process” and wait on Paxton’s office to issue an opinion.

Schwertner’s bill also put the Texas Workforce Commission in charge of implementing the new policy. Perry's mandate didn't assign that task to any agency. 

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