Legal vs Illegal Workers: E-Verify or Not?

In the State of Georgia, where I live, there is a move underway by members of the State Legislature to enact a law requiring all employers (except the very small under 5 employees) to use the federal E-Verify system. That requirement in already in place for employers who are working on tax payer funded projects. Most of these are construction jobs and, according to an investigative report by Fox 5 reporter Randy Travis, most of those jobs are in bricklaying. In his report I-Team: Hiring Illegal Immigrants Randy has discovered that many of the workers laying brick on school building projects are Mexican. He also discovered that the companies involved don’t seem to be using the E-Verify system and in fact seem to be trying to get around the requirement by calling these workers “independent contractors” or “1099s”. Of course any good HR pro knows that is as much bigger violation of the law than not using the E-Verify system.
The attempt to get a law passed requiring E-Verify has caused a lot of controversy, from two very different sides of the argument. Hispanic groups argue that it is discriminatory and business groups argue that it will have a depressing effect on business by not allowing them to hire laborers to fill jobs that others will not take. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce has even taken a stance against what they call an “administrative burden.” Their position is the following:

“…the Chamber opposes efforts by the federal or state government to place additional administrative burdens on businesses for employee verification or enforcement of immigration laws. The Chamber believes Georgia businesses that employ foreign-born employees should be prudent in the verification process and also be careful to avoid document discrimination. However, immigration laws and regulations must also indemnify and recognize the good faith efforts of employers and businesses that do comply with existing verification procedures and requirements. It is critical that immigration reform refrain from unduly burdening employers with worker verification systems that are under-funded or unworkable.”

My experience has been, in working with many small employers, is that most do a respectable job of trying to comply with immigration laws. Mistakes made are generally made out of ignorance of the requirements of the law. Mistakes that today can be severly punished by ICE. However, what Travis’ investigation found was not mistakes but apparent attempts to circumvent even current immigration regulations in an attempt to get work done and get it done a cheaply as possible. In Travis’ story the case is not that legal bricklayers cannot be found, it is just that they are more expensive that illegal bricklayers who get paid in cash.
I am not sure whether the law will get passed here in Georgia or not. We will have to see what the end of the legislative session will bring. I am pretty sure that Georgia is not the only state working on such legislation, so you need to pay attention to your local legislation.
One thing is certain however, regardless of the method you use to verify status, it is the law that ALL WORKERS must have the LEGAL RIGHT to work in the United States. As a Human Resources professional you have the obligation to make your best effort to insure that everyone you hire has the legal right to work  and has the documentation to back that up. Efforts to avoid this obligation will prove to be nothing but trouble. The potential trouble  may come from the IRS, the Department of Labor, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And what I mean by “trouble” is taxes, fines, and JAIL!

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