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L.A. County may require contractors to E-Verify their workers

The system uses federal databases to check employees' legal status and work eligibility. Some states have required it, but so far it is voluntary for California businesses.

August 26, 2009|Anna Gorman and Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Los Angeles County is exploring the possibility of requiring future contractors to participate in a federal program that checks whether employees are legal residents authorized to work in the United States.

The Board of Supervisors voted 5 to 0 Tuesday to have county officials review E-Verify and make a recommendation on mandating the program for contractors, which could include drug treatment facilities, construction companies and foster family agencies.

E-Verify is a free, online program that uses federal databases to verify that new hires are in the country legally and eligible to work. The Obama administration has promoted the program and is encouraging businesses to enroll. Beginning Sept. 8, the federal government will award contracts only to companies that enroll in E-Verify.

Although E-Verify is voluntary in California, a few other states have mandated the program. It is also becoming increasingly popular nationwide, with about 1,000 new businesses signing up each week. There are more than 11,000 companies -- including restaurants, hospitals and temporary employment agencies -- enrolled in California, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

"It is really growing," said Mariana Gitomer, a Los Angeles-based spokeswoman for the immigration agency. "The government is pushing it to employers. . . . The more employers use it, the more comfortable they are."

Gitomer said the program has a nearly 97% accuracy rate.

L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich proposed the motion, which says the benefits of E-Verify include "improved accuracy of wage and tax reporting" and "employers' ability to maintain a legal workforce and avoid prosecution."

"The county should be in the forefront of abiding by the laws of the federal system," Antonovich said. "This will ensure that people are working here legally and protect their rights."

Supervisor Gloria Molina supported the motion but said the E-Verify program is not flawless. She also questioned whether the county should be involved in enforcing the program's use and how much that would cost.

"You have to question how it's going to be utilized and enforced and whether we want to get involved in enforcing it," she said. The board will take up the issue again in two weeks.

Immigrant rights advocates have raised concerns about E-Verify, saying that it results in racial profiling and in citizens and legal permanent residents being mistakenly identified as unauthorized to work. They also have said that E-Verify places a costly burden on small businesses.

Jorge-Mario Cabrera of the Coalition for Humane Immigrants Rights of Los Angeles said he was disappointed by Tuesday's vote. "It sends a message that now Los Angeles County is conducting a witch hunt on immigration," he said.

Federation for American Immigration Reform spokesman Ira Mehlman said the motion is significant because Los Angeles County is so large, so beleaguered by the economic crisis and because it "has a long-standing policy of bending over backward to accommodate illegal aliens." If the county requires the use of E-Verify, Mehlman said, it would set an example for other counties.

"The people who are charged with spending the taxpayers' money ought to be certain that it is used to provide jobs to people who are here legally and who need them," he said.

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anna.gorman@latimes.com

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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