Georgia businesses contracting with state, county or municipal governments will be required to verify that all newly hired employees are eligible to work in the United States as of July 1, and some organizations in Atlanta are concerned, according to Elise Shore, regional council for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Ms. Shore and MALDEF Attorney Eric Meder spoke at a Mexican American Business Chamber breakfast on June 21 about the ramifications of the Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act.

The act was passed by the Georgia General Assembly last year and went into effect on July 1. It requires all public employers in the state to check their new hires’ or contractors’ identities against a national database to verify that they are legally eligible to work in the U.S. The Georgia Department of Labor has posted the new law’s regulations.

Public employers, contractors and subcontractors are required to register with a federal employment verification program, the Employment Eligibility Verification / Basic Pilot Program. A “public employer” is defined as any department, agency or instrumentality of Georgia or a political subdivision of Georgia. “Contractor” includes a “subcontractor, contract employee, staffing agency or any contractor regardless of tier.”

“The act only applies to companies that are contracting with the state or other public entities, but it is creating a general fear among the business community,” Ms. Shore told GlobalAtlanta.

“We want to work with the business community in opposing this law because it is over-regulating business. It is anti-business and anti-immigrant,” she said, noting that MALDEF believes other ill effects from the law could include racial profiling and human rights abuse of immigrants by police officers and employers.

She added that MALDEF was also seeking support from the business community in opposing an ordinance in Gwinnett County that would require contractors to verify the social security numbers of all personnel in companies with three or more employees when working on a project with the county. The proposal passed with a unanimous vote by county commissioners on June 26.

Such verification requirements are overly challenging for contractors and subcontractors who work on public development projects, said Leonardo Duque, membership manager of the 400-member Hispanic Contractors Association of Georgia.

He told GlobalAtlanta that 85 percent of workers in Georgia’s construction industry could be undocumented.

“Many Hispanic contractors are packing up to leave the state,” said Luisa Moreno, programs coordinator and membership services director of the contractors association. “We are just waiting for federal immigration reform.”

While federal reform efforts remain stymied in U.S. Congress, Georgia’s new law rewrites seven parts of the state code to discourage the hiring of undocumented workers. Some of the changes include banning the state from contracting with a company that is not registered with the Basic Pilot program.

The Basic Pilot is the only verification system in place for employers. As of July 1, companies with 500 or more employees must participate in the program. Companies with 100 or more employees must participate by July 1, 2008, and all other companies are required to participate by July 1, 2009.

State employers, as of Jan. 1, 2008, will not be able to claim the 6 percent state tax deduction for each employee unless they present a form of official identification such as a tax ID number or valid social security number.

So far, eight states – Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas – have enacted legislation requiring state agencies and contractors to verify employee eligibility in addition to federal verification regulations.

Colorado requires verification for all employers, not just public entities or businesses contracting with them.

And there is no guarantee that the Georgia Legislature would not amend the new law to require all companies to verify the eligibility of their employees in the future, Mr. Meder said.

County governments in Cherokee, Cobb and Gwinnett counties are already taking the cue from the state and seeking to draft their own immigration legislation, he said. He added that it is hurting businesses because foreign-born persons are leaving Georgia.

“The regulation of persons in Georgia who are not lawfully present in the U.S. is making life difficult and intolerable in Georgia, so workers are moving. People are afraid, so they are leaving the state slowly,” he said. He noted that the neighboring states of North and South Carolina are also looking to Georgia as a model for similar immigration legislation.

Story Contacts, Links and Related Stories
Mexican American Business Chamber – (770) 441-7851.

Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act regulations

Employment Eligibility Verification / Basic Pilot Program