Controversial employment bill nearly a done deal
by Mark Andrews
Apr 28, 2011 | 2890 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bartow County businesses last week had the opportunity to hear from agents with the Department of Homeland Security on E-Verify, the federal database service available online that will be required for all new hires if Gov. Nathan Deal signs House Bill 87 into law.

State employers are now required to use E-Verify, but if the bill is signed into law, Georgia will be the fifth state to require all employers, public and private, to use the system.

According to the E-Verify customer guide, "E-Verify is an Internet-based system operated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security, in partnership with the Social Security Administration. ... E-Verify provides an automated link to federal databases to help employers determine employment eligibility of new hires and the validity of their Social Security numbers."

Bobbie Smith with the Department of Homeland Security spoke at the Cartersville-Bartow Chamber of Commerce on an employer's responsibility when using the system as well as capabilities of the system. Amidst the controversy concerning House Bill 87, Smith said she also wanted to clear up confusion over what the E-Verify system actually does.

"[E-Verify] doesn't validate immigration status," Smith said. "[E-Verify] is not looking at someone's status or citizenship, we're looking at if they're eligible to work and if they have the proper documentation to work."

After an employer hires a new employee and completes the Employee Eligibility Verification Form I-9, the employer must then submit an E-Verify query by the end of three business days after the new hire's actual start date.

The query will include information from the I-9, including the employee's name and date of birth, Social Security number, citizenship status he attests to and proof of identity. The response to the initial query is sent within a few seconds of the submission.

"If you do receive a tentative non-confirmation [negative result of employment eligibility], the employee can contest or not contest [the result]," Smith said. "If they don't contest, then they're done, they're terminated. ... If they do contest, you'll refer that employee to Social Security or Homeland Security, and then we'll know they're coming because it's all generated through the system."

She said employers can print documents in various languages that explain to a tentative non-confirmation hire, the reason for the non-confirmation and what federal agency they should contact if they feel the result was made in error. Potential hires who receive a tentative non-confirmation have eight federal working days to contact the appropriate agency.

Smith said legitimate reasons behind a tentative non-confirmation could include government error, delays in reporting naturalization and identity theft.

"When [the employee] goes to that agency, [the employer] will get a notification that we know they're there, then you'll check back and E-Verify with what you'll have to do -- if you'll have to re-run them again, if you've now received an 'employee authorized' [notification] -- you'll receive an update from the agency as to what action to take," Smith said. "If they don't show up, then after that eighth day, they're terminated. It's a final non-confirmation."

Some critics say the bill -- which includes calling upon local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws -- could create a slippery slope. The American Civil Liberty Union of Georgia argues on their website, "This bill encourages racial profiling, will turn Georgia into 'show me your papers' territory, mandates use of error-prone federal database, and will subject the state to tremendous costs."

President Barack Obama has been quoted criticizing the bill, saying each state doesn't need individual immigration laws and that Arizona's similar immigration bill was struck down by a federal court. Obama also argued his administration has more border patrols and has done more crackdowns on illegal hiring processes than any other administration.

Critics of E-Verify -- which as of now is completely voluntary for private employers in Georgia -- question its timeliness, since an employer cannot use a confirmation as a reason to speed up an employee's start date and a non-confirmation cannot be used to delay training or a start date. In other words, if an employee's E-Verify results show he is not authorized to work in the U.S. and he contests, the employer can take no action for eight days and has to keep the employee on payroll, but does not have to pay the employee for those days.

Smith said this actually protects employers from discrimination suits because the E-Verify system does not verify someone's citizenship or status, just work eligibility, and does not allow employers to terminate an employee assumed to be an illegal immigrant based on the results of a query.

Debbie Underkoffler, owner of North Georgia Staffing, shared her experiences using E-Verify. She said it was important for employers to recognize that non-eligible hires aren't limited to a single group of people or industry.

"We also [E-Verify] a lot of engineers, so it's not just the Hispanics that we have to be careful about. ... You have lots of people from India and Russia and a lot of Asians, so we see a lot of those come through," Underkoffler said. She added, "Sometimes those people that are here in this country and have actually been educated here, they might not be eligible to work here."

Melinda Stephens, also with the Department of Homeland Security, said the system can be a deterrent for non-eligible hires before the application process even begins.

"Once you sign up for E-Verify you get a poster, and we're finding businesses will put them in their windows and [the businesses] have said they see people walk up, see that [E-Verify] sign, and turn and walk away," Stephens said. "Because once they see that sign, and if they're not authorized to work, they know there's no point. So, that's going to help you in hopefully avoiding hiring someone who is not documented."

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services:

* In 2008, nearly 97 percent of E-Verify queries resulted in the employee being authorized to work in the U.S.

* 2.8 percent of employees were not confirmed to be eligible to work in the U.S.

* 0.3 percent of tentative-non confirmations were resolved.