"We have four owners and we've never had any employees, but we still have to do it," said Pendley. "I went to the website this morning to look at it."
The 4,000-member Alabama Retail Association was among the industry organizations that spent months holding seminars, sending emails and staging conference calls to inform businesses of the requirement, but it was still hit with a flurry of late questions.
"Even last week I was surprised by the number of people who were saying, 'What are you talking about?'" said Nancy Dennis, a spokeswoman with association.
Other businesses are having have difficulty complying with the law because they lack Internet access, Dennis said.
Still, thousands of Alabama businesses have registered. Those include a catfish processor, public libraries, a women's clinics, churches, construction companies, truck-driving schools, law firms and auto supply stores.
The owner of a store with 10 workers that sells pool tables and other games said registering wasn't difficult even though he's not a "computer person." Homer Brown said he previously verified citizenship using documents for the Hoover-based store called Bumper Nets, and that seemed to work fine.
"I'd rather handle it the way I had before, but I guess they wanted to be able to check it a little closer," he said.
Nine states require all or most employers to register with E-Verify, according to LawLogix, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based company that sells immigration-related software. LawLogix attorney Ann Cun said larger employers may have an easier time tracking laws than smaller ones, but companies have a duty to keep up with government requirements.
"At the end of the day, the onus is really on the employer," said Cun.
In Arizona, supporters of that state's law say an E-Verify provision has helped reduce the number of people who work in the state without proper legal documents. Opponents say the requirement has only driven an underground economy even deeper, with employers making more handshake deals with workers rather than going through proper legal channels. Arizona's law predates Alabama's.
A provision similar to Alabama's took effect in South Carolina on Jan. 1, but officials say employers are not required to join E-Verify until they are ready to hire new workers. Georgia's law on illegal immigration also requires employers to register for E-Verify, but employers with fewer than 11 workers are exempt.
Even those businesses that have registered with the system could face difficulties. A study by the General Accounting Office in 2010 found that E-Verify employment checks can result in erroneous answers if the same name is entered into the system in more than one way, which sometimes happens when employers check someone from an unfamiliar cultural background.
At the car dealership, Pendley said the first step in joining E-Verify was gathering the paperwork he needed to fill out forms.
"It's really not a lot to do, but you have to identify the company and have a federal tax ID number," he said. "It will probably take about five minutes."