State agencies ignoring new immigration law
Government » Anti-illegal immigration groups are upset, reminding counties and schools to screen their hires.
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Eight months after Utah required governmental entities to verify their employees are legally able to work in the United States, the law is being widely ignored.

The failure of many counties, municipalities, school districts and other governmental bodies to comply has sparked an outcry from lawmakers.

The lack of enforcement is "troubling," said former Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St.George, who sponsored the new law.

"I would hope that anyone in law enforcement who raised their hand and took an oath to support the laws of Utah would feel obligated to enforce it."

Senate Bill 81 required Utah's governmental entities to use the federal government's electronic verification system, E-Verify, or similar programs. Yet the measure was passed without teeth: There are no penalties for non-compliance.

Data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services show that as of last month, only four of the state's 29 counties have registered to use E-Verify, although another six have indicated they have registered. Cache County and Salt Lake County report they are using other verification programs.

Immigration Services data show 19 of the state's 41 school districts are signed up to use E-Verify, which matches employee information with that of the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

Scores of Utah municipalities don't yet appear on the E-Verify list.

"There's no excuse for them to be ignoring it," said Robert Wren, chairman of Utahns For Immigration Reform and Enforcement. "It's a simple procedure."

UFIRE and other anti-illegal immigration activists have sent letters to every county, school district and the associations they to which they belong, reminding them the law requires they use a verification system for their new hires and for private companies' new hires when they contract with the government.

Legislators also are feeling the heat.

Responding to constituents demanding to know why the law is being ignored, a handful of legislators called on Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff to explain why he wasn't enforcing the law.

Shurtleff said he was not in charge of enforcing that law, but that he would send out a letter informing everyone affected they need to start using E-Verify or similar programs such as the Social Security Number Verification System.

Tony Yapias, a Latino community advocate, says he has no problem with governmental agencies using a verification system, but thinks it will have "minimal impact" on employees.

"The vast majority of government workers are U.S. citizens or residents," Yapias said. "I know very few people who work for state government who are undocumented."

Some public officials say they were not aware they needed to run their employees through such a system. Beaver County Clerk and Personnel Director Paul Barton said his county has not done so.

"We haven't heard of the requirement, but if the law says we need to sign up for it, we will," he said.

Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, who called the meeting with Shurtleff, described E-Verify as "a very good system."

"It's come to our attention that not all of the public entities have been utilizing it yet," she said. "But I think more and more are getting on board."

steve@sltrib.com

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