Leaders mulling verification law|Want to stop influx of illegal immigrants into Beaufort County

Published 8:42 pm Thursday, October 1, 2009

Staff Writer

Some Beaufort County leaders believe it may be time to act to halt the influx of illegal immigrants into the county by enacting ordinances, such as requiring businesses to verify that potential employees are in the country legally, a move increasingly used by counties and states nationwide.
Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson said he is ready to take action.
“I’m not interested in waiting,” said Commissioner Hood Richardson in an interview Tuesday.
Richardson said a schedule for considering and enacting such ordinances would depend on the views of the other commissioners.
At a recent meeting, members of the county’s Immigration Committee — which includes Richardson and Commissioners Al Klemm and Stan Deatherage — began discussing specific actions they could take to curb illegal immigration into Beaufort County.
They want to seek advice from Michael M. Hethmon, a lawyer with the Immigration Reform Law Institute, about possible local ordinances that pertain to employment practices. Hethmon specializes in the representation of the interests of United States citizens in immigration-related cases and provides technical advice in drafting legislative proposals to reform the nation’s immigration law.
States and counties across the nation have begun to pass or consider ordinances requiring businesses to use E-Verify — an Internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Services Administration — when hiring new employees.
Oakland County in Michigan recently passed an E-Verify ordinance, according to the IRLI. Beginning Thursday, businesses that provide services to Oakland County will be required to use E-Verify or any subsequent verification program established by Homeland Security. That county is preparing rules to implement the new law.
As of April, the most recent date for which statistics are available, 12 states had passed laws requiring some or all employers to use E-Verify in hiring new employees. Five states had E-Verify laws under discussion by their legislatures, according to NumbersUSA, a political action committee concerned with immigration issues.
Earlier this year, members of the North Carolina General Assembly introduced measures that would have required all North Carolina counties and cities to participate in E-Verify programs when hiring new employees.
The measures would have also required businesses that received any city, county or other governmental contracts to verify information on all of their employees. And the bills would have imposed penalties — such as the loss of a business license — on those employers who failed to comply with the new regulations.
“It’s a pretty good piece of legislation,” said Sen. John Snow, D-Cherokee, in an interview this week. “And it’s one of the few things we can do on the state and local level (about illegal immigration).”
Snow said his bill is likely eligible for consideration when the Legislature reconvenes in May, but he is unsure of the response to the bill from fellow senators. Snow said his bill stalled in the Senate Appropriations Committee after business groups raised concerns with some Senate leaders about the proposal.
A similar bill, introduced in the state House by Reps. Wil Neumann, R-Gaston, and George Cleveland, R-Onslow, was referred to the House Appropriations Committee where it waits for approval.
Richardson said an E-Verify ordinance is one of the options he is willing to consider.
“This is something worth considering,” he said. “But there isn’t a silver bullet.”
Commissioner Stan Deatherage, in an interview Tuesday, said, “It is very important that we have the full participation of all employers in verifying the legitimacy of their employees.”
But he questioned whether the county could move forward on an E-Verify ordinance until the state approves a measure requiring statewide use of E-Verify.
County Manager Paul Spruill said at the Immigration Committee meeting that an ordinance targeting employers would not necessary affect all undocumented county residents because not all of them enter the United States to get a job.
“The incentive (to come to the United States) might not only be employment,” he said. “It might be the education system.”
The commissioners have the authority to pass ordinances affecting business and employment practices but they do not have the authority to bar individuals from the public school system, he said.
The county’s Immigration Committee has worked in recent months to try to identify the cost to Beaufort County of undocumented residents who receive services from county governmental agencies.
The committee’s latest figures suggest that about $1.1 million in county health department, social services, education and housing in the county jail is provided to Spanish-speakers who do not speak English and require translators when seeking services.
Spruill cautioned that not all Spanish-speakers in Beaufort County are illegal immigrants.
“You need to be careful about their actual fiscal impact,” Spruill said.
Spruill is expected to present figures of the estimated cost to the taxpayers of Beaufort County to the commissioners at a future meeting.