County gets tough on illegal workers
Contractors must verify all employees
By Michael Andersen
The Columbian (Clark County, WA), September 1, 2009
Clark County's government is getting strict: hand over real IDs, workers, or your bosses won't get our cash.
The county's biggest contractors will soon be required to verify online that all their employees are legal U.S. workers, under a rule passed by county commissioners Tuesday.
'It's important that we get into the 21st century with federal regulations,' said Commissioner Tom Mielke, who pushed for the new requirement.
The 3-0 decision, apparently the first such vote by a Washington county, puts Clark County at the front of a regional movement for local governments to put their purchasing power behind companies that voluntarily go above and beyond federal law to instantly check workers' immigration status with the federal E-Verify Web service.
Some local employers who have already signed up for the free program, though, said it has flaws and may not be ready for prime time.
Opponents of illegal immigration predicted the county's decision will be a tipping point in their campaign.
'We can take this victory here and go to all the other cities in Clark County,' said Chuck Miller of Camas, whose group, Washington Citizens for Responsible Government, lobbies for local policies to check illegal immigration.
Miller said the Ridgefield City Council will discuss a similar proposal this month.
Big contracts only
Clark County's rule will only affect the handful of contracts the county awards annually over $1 million. That includes its largest road projects and a few social service contracts with nonprofits such as Lifeline Connections, which treats drug and alcohol addiction.
It's similar to a federal rule, taking effect Sept. 8, that requires federal contractors to use E-Verify on projects that cost more than $100,000, last more than 120 days, and don't consist entirely of commercially available products.
Arizona and Mississippi require all employers to use E-Verify, a federal spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Mark McCauley, the county's general services director, said general contractors for the county will be required to pledge that their subcontractors' employees have been verified as legal, too.
'They're going to have lock-tight language in their contract, I would think,' McCauley said.
If any contractor knowingly breaks the rules on a million-dollar project, the county would be allowed to bar them from future bids.
The rules will take effect once county lawyers finish tweaking the details of the county's new contracts.
Steve Stuart, the county board's sole Democrat, called the new policy 'consistent with our commitment to buy local.'
The director of the League of United Latin American Citizens warned, in a forwarded fact sheet, that without a national amnesty program, requirements like Clark County's 'will only drive (illegal immigrants) and their employers further into the underground economy.'
Maria Rodriguez-Salazar of Vancouver, a local leader in the Latino group, said the county needs to pay attention to the minority of people who may be incorrectly denied work.
'In government, there is no perfect system,' she said. 'There's always going to be flaws.'
Employers like idea
Hundreds of Washington companies have already signed up to use the E-Verify Web site.
The publicly funded service allows employers to enter the name and number of any would-be employee, then see whether the two match. The site also displays a photo of the worker.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office says 97 percent of E-Verify tests so far have turned up valid. The other 3 percent of workers get an automatic appeal period to prove their status.
By July, 47 Clark County companies had registered, including manufacturer WaferTech and Riverview Community Bank.
Several of those employers said Tuesday that they supported the goals of E-Verify.
'We don't want the complications, the paperwork, being embroiled in state or federal bureaucracy issues should a person turn out not to have the proper documents,' said Don Weidner, the owner of Ansur Saddlery in Camas. 'It appeared to be solid, verifiable, firm information.'
Red tape feared
Others remain skeptical.
'If the system truly works and truly gets us the correct information, we're all for it,' said Samantha Snider, owner of ProCare Cleaning Service in Battle Ground. 'I'm just afraid of government red tape screwing things up.'
Snider said she had been avoiding signing a required deal with the federal government because she didn't want to submit to the required appeal process.
'We want to have the right to let people go if we don't think they are legal,' she said.
Snider said two other companies who use the service had told her they'd never received final word after the E-Verify database first called workers' status into question.
'I'm just trying to follow the law,' Snider said.
One Clark County contractor said he had the same desire.
He'd been shocked, he said, when he ran the names of 'about 40' of his better employees through E-Verify and saw that 'maybe 20 out of 25 Hispanic last names' had been invalid.
'Two of them, at least, owned their houses,' said the contractor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he later learned that E-Verify is only supposed to be used during the hiring process. 'They were all getting car loans.'
Clark Co to require check of workers' legal status
The Associated Press, September 2, 2009