Feelings mixed ahead of Springfield E-Verify vote

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — Some Springfield business owners say there's no reason to oppose a proposal that would require them to use a federal government system called E-Verify to check whether job applicants are eligible for employment.

Others say the Feb. 7 vote to decide whether to require Springfield employers to use the federal government's E-Verify program to check employees' status is unnecessary, the Springfield News-Leader reported (http://sgfnow.co/yBYKKB).

"I'm going to vote against it," said Tom Pierson, who co-owns Kaleidoscope Ink tattoo shop in Springfield. "I don't see that a problem exists for there to be such a hue and cry for it. It's a solution begging for a problem in Springfield."

If the proposal comes into force, employers who don't use the program could be fined $499 and have their business license suspended.

Pierson said he employs between 15 and 20 people and has relatively low turnover in his shop, so he wouldn't need to use the system often. But he said it would still be a hassle that he would have to delegate to someone else.

The Ozarks Minutemen, which proposed the regulations, says it is designed to prevent the hiring of illegal workers.

Kit Carson said his company, Carson-Mitchell Engineers & Builders, already uses E-Verify to screen every prospective employee.

"We already are required to do it for all public work contracts we get," Carson said. "Not just us, but all our subcontractors. My opinion is I don't know why you wouldn't want to E-Verify that somebody you're looking to hire is an American citizen. It's a very easy thing to do."

The NAACP and the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce oppose the measure. The chamber believes that, "on its face, the proposed ordinance is illegal," board chairman Jerry Harmison said.

One of Springfield's largest employers, Mercy St. John's, has been using E-Verify for new hires since September 2009. While there's a time commitment for his staff, senior human resources vice president Jim Brookhart said "there's no expense to us."

"We just rolled it into their regular duties," Brookhart said.

He said Mercy hires nearly 1,000 people a year and so far nobody has been rejected by E-Verify.

Two years ago, however, when Mercy used E-Verify retroactively to check on all its active employees, the hospital "did let two people go because they did not have legal clearance," said hospital spokeswoman Cora Scott.

A 2010 Westat study found that E-Verify approved 3.3 percent of workers who were ineligible for employment in the U.S.

The system has difficulty identifying counterfeit, stolen or borrowed identity documents, critics say, but others believe the program is good enough to continue to use.

Joe Jenkins, customer service manager at Jenkins Diesel Power, Inc., said although his company uses E-Verify for new employees, he plans to vote against it because parts of it likely will be declared illegal.

City Attorney Dan Wichmer believes the provision that requires fines for Springfield employers that don't use E-Verify or hire illegal workers conflicts with federal law.

"It may cause litigation for the city, and for that reason I plan to vote against it," Jenkins said.

Springfield NAACP president Cheryl Clay called the E-Verify measure "legally flawed, poorly written and far exceeds established federal and state guidelines currently in place."

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