State contractors face mandatory residency verification of employees

BATON ROUGE, La. – While hiring illegal immigrants is already illegal, Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) wants all firms that contract with the state of Louisiana to verify residency status of their employees. SB 66 would mandate participation in the federal EVerifyprogram, following similar legislation passed in Colorado, Georgia, and South Carolina.

From January 1, 2012, those found still employing illegal immigrants would be subject to cancellation of their contract and could be ineligible for further government contracts.

The bill asserts that employment of illegal immigrants obstructs the enforcement of federal immigration law and undermines the security of U.S. borders. The verification system, it continues, will assure “taxpayers that their dollars are not spent in support of such illegal aliens.”

The state government has almost 12,000 suchcontracts, each worth an average of $1.1 million. That comes to $12.3 billion and around 6 percent of the economy, so this policy, if enforced, could have a noticeable impact on Louisiana taxpayers.

Contractors hire illegal immigrants because they are willing to work below the wages of legal citizens, so without these workers the cost to taxpayers for public projects would tend to rise. Additionally, pushing illegal immigrants out of the labor force would lower the tax base. The ReasonFoundation has reported that two thirds of illegal immigrants pay Medicare, Social Security, and personal income taxes, and they cannot avoid sales taxes.

Sen. Riser, however, believes taxpayers are his strongest ally.

“I would say 80 percent of [Louisiana residents] agree with me that Louisiana tax dollars should not be spent… on someone that does not have legal status in the U.S.” He also cites the AmericanFederationofLaborandCongressofIndustrialOrganizations, with 55 national and international labor unions as members, as a key proponent.

Regardless, evidence from other states suggests widespread non-compliance from employers, a calculated acceptance of the associated risks.

For example, Arizona, along with Mississippi and Utah, has mandated E-verify participation for all employers, not only those contracting with government. Even two years after enactment, Arizona’s largest newspaper,TheArizonaRepublic, reported that only a third of employers had even signed up, let alone vetted all employees.

In the case of Mississippi, however, Sen. Riser believes the results have been positive, and he has been in contact with the legislation’s sponsor.

“Last year when I spoke with SenatorMichaelWatson [R-Pascagoula], who sponsored the legislation over there in 2009, he said the only aspect of all he would change is that he would rather it would have taken effect sooner.”

AntonyDavies, an economics professor at Duquesne University, Pennsylvania, remains skeptical.

“Requiring that employers verify the legal status of their employees is like requiring that drug dealers verify the number of sales they make each month. To paraphrase from one of my favorite movies, one does not get a permit to do an illegal thing,” he says.

Davies also disputes the notion that immigrants, legal or illegal, are a problem worthy of resistance.

“Workers bring skills and labor. The more skills and labor we have, the more stuff we can produce. As we produce more stuff, the price of that stuff falls, and everyone who buys that stuff is better off.” (Click here for his complete response, and one of his presentations on immigration is below – three minutes.)

Darlene Kattan, executive director of Louisiana’s HispanicChamberofCommerce, notes that immigration is under the jurisdiction of the federal government, not the state. Sen. Riser agrees in principle, but “in the face of federal inaction… the states, in my opinion, have the responsibility to ensure jobs… and I feel like those jobs should go to people that have a legal status in the United States of America.”

Kattan also has concern with the accuracy of the E-Verify program. In fact, a report commissioned by U.S. Customs and Immigration (USCIS) found that 54 percent of unauthorized workers still received E-Verify approval for employment.

OportunidadesNola is an adult education center that assists Hispanics, regardless of their documentation, to integrate into the greater New Orleans area. Its director, Jamie McDaniel says she seeks “to build bridges between the native and immigrant communities,” and she hopes “all residents of Louisiana, who work hard… would be able to work here without being harassed by [USCIS].”

“This country needs an immigration reform… The immigration system, as it stands today, is not serving the best interests of potential immigrants or citizens of the United States… Asking employers to do the work of the federal government with regard to enforcement of immigration laws is very unfair to those employers and is going to promote racial profiling of Hispanic employees, whether or not they have documentation.”

Jacob Hornberger, of the FutureofFreedomFoundation, holds immigration and other economic liberties as equal to freedom of speech, religious liberty, and political liberty. Louisiana officials and everyone else, he says, should advocate open borders “as the only solution to the immigration woes that afflict our nation.” (Read Hornberger’s full response here.)

On the other hand, the EagleForum – a paleoconservative, traditionalist organization – describes the E-Verify program as a shovel-ready solution to the “immigration crisis.” Its founder, Phyllis Schlafly, has expressedconcern about the “loss of U.S. jobs to illegal aliens,” particularly jobs associated with federal “stimulus” funds.

Sen. Riser remains confident of the bill’s passage. After lacking a quorum last week, the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee is scheduled to review SB 66 tomorrow, May 12.

Fergus Hodgson is the capitol bureau reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy and editor of The Pelican Post. He can be contacted at, and one can follow him on twitter.