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After an audit by federal immigration officials showed that 10 percent of the workers at Park City's upscale Stein Eriksen Lodge were ineligible to work in the United States, the lodge began using E-Verify, the federal government's online system that matches workers to Social Security numbers. For two years, Utah law has required employers with 15 or more workers to use E-Verify, but there is no penalty for a violation. As the Stein Eriksen case illustrates, there should be a penalty. Otherwise employers will simply ignore the law.

Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, introduced a bill in the Legislature earlier this year that would have provided penalties for employers who knowingly or intentionally hire unauthorized aliens. If a court order were issued against an employer, the business would have been required to file quarterly reports of hirings during a three-year probationary period. Unauthorized employees would have to be fired. Penalties for noncompliance would have included loss of business licenses and, in some cases, criminal sanctions.

All employers would be required to use E-Verify, except those who employ agricultural workers.

The bill never got a hearing. That was due to legislative leadership's decision not to take up new immigration enforcement bills in the wake of controversial battles last year that took up much of the Legislature's time and emotional energy.

It is not clear that Sandstrom's bill would be the right answer to the question of how to impose penalties that would induce Utah employers to use E-Verify. However, it is clear, from the Stein Eriksen example, that a reasonable penalty is needed.

The question is complicated because immigration law is a federal matter. The state cannot and should not attempt to write its own immigration laws. One of Sandstrom's earlier bills, which was enacted to strengthen local enforcement of immigration laws, is currently the subject of litigation in the federal courts.

In the past, we have not supported the E-Verify requirement because of concerns about the reliability of the system's federal database. People can be falsely flagged as unauthorized for innocuous reasons, such as a woman's failure to notify the Social Security administration when she takes a married name.

But it is widely believed that many in the work force in certain industries, including hospitality, are unauthorized aliens. It is unfair to other workers and employers to let some businesses simply look the other way.