E-Verify a bothersome but not insurmountable chore for area businesses
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
Jan 14, 2012 | 3329 views |  0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Steve Hale of Hale Building Company in Anniston only wants to hire legal workers. He wants to comply with all laws.

But to him, the state is just not making it very easy.

Hale Building Company was one of many Alabama businesses with government contracts that were required to enroll with the E-Verify system this month to comply with the state’s immigration law. E-Verify is a free Internet service offered by the federal government that lets companies check the working status of employees by comparing a worker’s name to official records.

Hale said the process to enroll in the system, and just complying with the immigration law in general, has been difficult.

“There is a good bit of time needed to switch over to it,” Hale said. “And there is just a lot of confusion about what is to be done. But we’ve made a very valiant effort to conform to the new law.”

Hale said he does not agree with the way the state has implemented the law, which was passed last year and considered the toughest immigration legislation in the country.

“It seems like politicians could have done a better job to phase things in and explain them,” Hale said. “And we’re being asked to be the police of the industry, but we’re not in business to track these people down.”

Lance Taylor, president of the Taylor Corporation in Oxford, whose company also had to enroll in E-Verify this month, agreed with Hale that much of the immigration law is confusing.

“Every time they come out with something different, the lawyers try to keep us abreast with what we can and can’t do,” Taylor said. “There was just so much confusion when it first came out.”

John Bryan, vice president of the Sunny King Auto Group in Anniston, said his company also enrolled with E-Verify this month as a precautionary measure.

“It was our understanding that if you did business with a governmental entity, you needed to be in compliance,” Bryan said. “We weren’t sure if we had to do it in January or April … so we did it as a precautionary measure.”

The law requires all state companies in general to enroll with E-Verify.

Like Hale Building, enrolling in the system took considerable time and work for Sunny King’s several dealerships.

“I wouldn’t describe it as difficult, but it was something added to the plate of things to do,” Bryan said. “It was something we did on a dealership-by-dealership basis.”

To Bryan, the mandatory enrollment in E-Verify will be a good thing for the state and his company in the long run.

“I really don’t think it’s a bad thing to do,” Bryan said. “I don’t think we’re in danger of hiring an illegal immigrant anyway, but if this clears that up once and for all, I think that’s a good thing.”

Wendy Feliz Sefsaf, director of communications for the non-profit American Immigration Council, said forcing companies to enroll in the E-Verify system wouldn’t clear up much of anything and could cause problems for businesses.

“One of the biggest criticisms of it is its error rate,” Sefsaf said. “People are not so much against verifying workers as they are against having a system that doesn’t work.”

Sefsaf said the system can sometimes cause problems for legal citizens, flagging them if they have changed their names through marriage or divorce. To be on the safe side, employers will sometimes not wait and simply fire these people, she said.

Hale said the issue of firing someone who is legal has been a concern for his lawyers.

“I’m told that the law does not protect you if you terminate someone wrongly because you can’t E-Verify them,” Hale said. “And you can get sued for wrongful termination.”

Sefsaf said E-Verify cannot possibly catch all illegals who try to get work either.

“If an illegal has a fake name that matches a social security number, the system doesn’t deter them one bit,” she said.

Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, agreed the E-Verify system is not perfect and would not catch dishonest companies paying illegal workers under the table, for instance. However, the system would help companies trying to comply with the law.

“You have a lot of companies out there paying illegals who don’t know they are illegal,” Marsh said. “E-Verify will get that taken care of.”

Marsh added that he has only had one company contact him to complain about the immigration law requirements and did not think any of them, including E-Verify, would be a burden to businesses.

“I don’t think it’s a problem,” Marsh said. “It takes some time to set up the system, but after that it’s not a problem.”

For Taylor, the benefits of completing the lengthy E-Verify system enrollment process are still unknown.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s probably too early to tell,” Taylor said. “Maybe after waiting six months to a year I’ll know.”

Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561.
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