Enforcing E-Verify

Published: Friday, Feb. 25 2011 9:00 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Jen Jones can't imagine the papers she spreads out on her desk — Social Security cards, work permits, copies of government issued ID — are fake.

"They look legit to me," said the human resource manager, pursing her lips as if daring someone to question her. "I'd never take them if they didn't."

But things aren't always as they seem. Jones, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, recently discovered one of the men on her construction crew immigrated to the country illegally. She didn't fire him. Instead, she found him a lawyer.

"He's a hard-working man with a cute little wife and a brand new baby," she said. "I can't put them out on the street."

Utah law requires companies with 15 or more employees to check workers' immigration status using the federal E-Verify system. Only about 50 percent of eligible businesses do so, however. Among the offenders are four county governments, seven school districts and dozens of municipalities.

Right now, there's no penalty for noncompliance, but Utah's House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that will add teeth to the law. HB253 puts local law enforcement in charge of monitoring the use of E-Verify. Companies that hire illegal aliens will lose their license for three days on the first offense and permanently on the second.

"The enticement of jobs is a large part of the reason immigrants are coming here illegally," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo. "If we get rid of the jobs, we will have fewer illegal immigrants."

There are a lot of reasons Utah businesses don't use E-Verify.

Because there is no government office monitoring the use of E-Verify, some simply aren't aware of the requirement, said Bob Wren, Chairman of Utahns for Immigration Reform and Enforcement. In an effort to encourage school districts to sign up, he personally mailed out letters outlining the main points of the law. Most thanked him, told him they hadn't heard of it and signed up.

"There's no punishment for not using it," Wren said. "People just don't bother."

Some, though, like Jones, believe using E-Verify without reforming immigration laws to satisfy the labor demand will interfere with their ability to conduct business. Already, some Utah businesses that use E-Verify have run into trouble.

One company, that wished to remain anonymous, signed up for E-Verify, fired its undocumented employees and hired Americans. The results were more employees and less production. Concerned about its own survival, the company decided to do away with E-Verify.

"We've had white workers and we've had Spanish workers," Jones said. "I don't want to come off racist, but the fact of the matter is, we've had drug and alcohol problems with our white workers. Our white workers stole lumber and tools like you wouldn't believe. We've never gotten anything but good work from our Spanish workers."

In Park City, hotels that use E-Verify are having trouble filling jobs.

Kristen Dorius is a human resource specialist for a Park City property management company, but this ski season she's been cleaning toilets.

Resorts West, in compliance with Utah law, started in 2010 checking the immigration status of potential employees before making hiring decisions. Things were going great, Dorius said — E-Verify was easy to use — but when it came time to hire the customary seasonal crew of housekeepers in the fall, the company ran into trouble. Few of its applicants passed the immigration check. After it started advertising the fact that the company would be verifying employee immigration status, people stopped applying all together. It has only been able to fill eight of 30 seasonal positions.

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