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Illegal workers

E-Verify program is far from perfect

By NASH NUNNERY I contributor


The official mandate to require all federal contractors to check the legal status of their employees to confirm their eligibility to work in the U.S. is now a year old.

But one Mississippi construction official says that although E-Verify helps in filtering illegal workers, the program is far from perfect.

“The problem with the new law in Mississippi is that it’s not enforced,” said Perry Nations, executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Mississippi.  “There is no entity in the state that is earmarked for enforcement.  If we’re going to have E-Verify, then there needs to be enforcement of the law.”

E-Verify is an Internet-based, free computer program for employers to check their workers against the Social Security data base to make sure they are eligible for employment.  The program is administered by the Department of Homeland Security, in partnership with the Social Security Administration.

According to the DHS website, more than 196,000 U.S. employers use E-Verify.

Prior to 2008, the construction industry has had a long history of utilizing the skills of undocumented laborers. Almost three million Hispanic workers were employed by the U.S. construction industry during 2006, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Of that number, 2.2 million were here illegally. Pew estimated that 168,000 of 559,000 new construction jobs went to illegal workers that year.

Those numbers caught the attention of a number of states, including Mississippi.

Gov. Haley Barbour signed legislation in 2008 requiring all employers to use E-Verify with new hires. By checking their Social Security number, Immigration “A” status and/or I-94 arrival/departure number against the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration databases, employers can determine the eligibility of all new employees.

Currently, only private employers, public contractors and subcontractors, state agencies and agency subdivisions are required to register with and use E-Verify.

By July 2011, all Mississippi employers must use the program.

Since its inception, has the new E-Verify law had any effects on Mississippi’s construction and building trades industries?  Yes and no, reiterates Nations.

A long-time veteran in the construction industry, Nations believes the law isn’t enforceable under its present structure.

“For example, let’s say I own XYZ Construction Company and I have a job out on (Jackson’s) Lakeland Drive,” he said.  “Some guy walks in off the street and says he needs a job for a day.  And the foreman says he needs a trench dug by hand and pays the guy for the day to dig the trench.

“The next day, that worker is found to be an illegal worker and XYZ did not document him.  Under the way the law is written, XYZ Company could lose their license to operate in the construction business for two years.”

Nations adds that without an enforcement structure or an appeal process, E-Verify will continue to be inadequate.

The E-Verify program was originally established in 1997 as the Basic Pilot Program to prevent illegal aliens from obtaining jobs.  All employers, by law, must complete Form I-9 but participation in E-Verify is voluntary.  A 2008 Center for Immigration Studies backgrounder states that the system is 99.5 percent accurate.

Educating its membership and Mississippi’s construction industry about E-Verify, and labor laws in general is critical, says Nations.

“We have seminars on the subject from time to time for our members,” he said.  “But the law needs amending and something in place to enforce it.”


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