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December 29, 2012

Immigration status check to be required for some workers

GREENSBURG — A Pennsylvania lawmaker says a new law aimed at ensuring that em­ployees on public-funded projects are legal residents should be extended to all employers in the commonwealth.

The measure requiring contractors and subcontractors on public works projects totaling $25,000 or more to use the federal E-Verify system to check the immigration status of their workers goes into effect in the new year. The state Department of General Services will oversee compliance with the measure, which is expected to cost the state $1.3 million in the first year. Penalties range from warnings to three-year bans from state projects and fines up to $1,000.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cran­berry, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he sees the measure as “just the first step.” He said he plans to re­introduce legislation to require use of the system by all em­ployers in the commonwealth.

“Requiring the use of the free federal E-Verify system is a commonsense policy that will ultimately stop illegal aliens from stealing American jobs,” Metcalfe said.

While industry officials told the newspaper that they generally accept the new law as a cost of doing business, immigration advocates criticize such measures.

“We think the mandates are problematic because at their core they really don’t provide solutions,” said attorney Emily Tulli of the National Immigration Law Center in Washington.

“What we need is a way for workers to become qualified and aboveboard. E-Verify does nothing toward that.”

Tulli said the experience in other states has shown that many employers don’t comply with the laws, and the

E-Verify system can produce false results for which there is no clear appeals process.

“E-Verify mandates create unfair competition for high-road employers,” Tulli said. “And the more people you apply it to, the more errors you are going to have.”

Pennsylvania was the 22nd state to pass E-Verify legislation; 20 states have voted down such bills, according to the law center.

Richard Barcaskey, executive director of the Beechview-based Contractors Association of Western Pennsylvania, said he doesn’t recall any immigration issues with public works contractors over the past decade and a half. Most bidders on public works contracts divulge employee rosters to agencies as part of prequalification and prevailing wage programs, and they use union members and work on projects paid for with federal money, which already require such checks, he said.

“I think (lawmakers) want to tackle this one step at a time. And the first people you aim at are the ones you have the most control over,” said Barcaskey, who added that future laws might target residential contractors and other industries.

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