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Board eyes worker screening

Posted: August 25, 2009 9:51 p.m.
Updated: August 26, 2009 4:30 a.m.

LOS ANGELES — Officials will weigh the pros and cons of using a controversial system to weed out undocumented workers from businesses that contract with the county, Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday.

Critics, however, called Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich’s plan an unproductive scare tactic.

“Just trying to deter people and scare them off, in hopes that the immigration problem will go away will not work,” said Carl Bergquist, policy advocate for Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights of Los Angeles, an immigration-rights advocacy group. “You can’t reform immigration through enforcement alone. We need new immigration laws.”

County officials will produce a report on the potential impacts of forcing contractors hired by the county to use the E-Verify system to check the work eligibility status of potential employees.

The routine fact-gathering process the board approved Tuesday would not directly change any policies, but it could lead to a future proposal.

E-Verify is an Internet-based employee-verification system that allows employers to check whether a potential employee is eligible to work in the United States. The technology became popular in the wake of federal immigration reform in 2004.

But since its rise in popularity, E-Verify has come under fire from numerous immigration advocacy groups claiming the system is flawed.

Keystroke errors or a name change after marriage or divorce could come back as a lack of information on file prompting an employer to disqualify a potential employee, experts said, and its use in other areas has led to scores of lawsuits.

Immigration law professor Niels W. Frenzen of the University of Southern California said the E-Verify system is not designed for pre-employment checks.

Employers are supposed to use E-Verify after employment and give the employee time to correct any inaccuracies that show up during the check, Frenzen he said.

The employee would ideally remain employed during the process.

However, businesses often fire the employees because they don’t want to exhaust staff time helping an employee or prospective hire fix the problem. “Businesses don’t want to play immigration agent,” he said.

Antonovich, who represents the Santa Clarita Valley, said implementing the program would benefit employers and legally eligible employees, and would end the exploitation of undocumented immigrants.

“Today’s action will determine how the federal program can be implemented in Los Angeles County,” Antonovich said. “It is a convenient method to maintain a legal work force, avoid prosecution and improve the accuracy of wage and tax reporting. ...

Determining an employee’s eligibility to legally work in the United States is vital in our effort to reduce the economic impact of illegal immigration on our county taxpayers and protect workers from unscrupulous employers who exploit them.”



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