Beaufort News

323 S.C. businesses cited for E-Verify violations in 2012

In the first full year of mandatory immigration checks for S.C. workers, the state cited 323 businesses for failing to comply with the law.

None of those businesses lost its license to operate in South Carolina, and none has been a repeat offender, said Lesia Kudelka , a spokeswoman for the S.C Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which manages the state's immigrant worker compliance program.

In 2011, South Carolina's General Assembly created a new immigration law that required all businesses to use the federal E-Verify system to check the names and Social Security numbers of newly hired workers. The law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2012, but the state did not begin strict enforcement until July 1.

E-Verify is a federal program that checks workers' names against their Social S ecurity numbers. If a name and number match, the worker is considered legal to work in the United States. If there is a mismatch, then a company must take further steps to make sure the prospective employee is not an illegal immigrant.

For the most part, S.C. businesses are following the law. The 323 businesses that were not complying represent less than 10 percent of the more than 4,000 businesses that were audited, according to data provided by the labor department.

When the law was enacted, the department held seminars throughout the state tobusiness owners and human resources managers on what to do.

"We still find employers who are not familiar with the state law and E-Verify; but the number declines each month," Kudelka wrote in an email.

If businesses violate the law, they are put on probation. Repeat offenses call for harsher penalties that range from fines and the suspension of business licenses.

When the law took effect, there was some concern that the checks would be a hassle for businesses. But business attorneys and labor department officials have said that has not been the case.

Darrell Scott , vice president of public policy for the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, said business leaders are reporting that E-Verify is fast and reliable.

"They're actually embracing it," Scott said.

Otis Rawl , the S.C. Chamber president, said large employers have human resource experts to manage programs such as E-Verify. The businesses that have run afoul of the law most likely are small businesses where one person oversees all management operations and new employees are rarely hired. All along, it was those businesses that chamber officials worried about, Rawl said.

"These may be things that slip through the cracks for them," he said.

However, an overall compliance rate of more than 90 percent is not bad for a first year, Rawl said.

The E-Verify requirement was part of the S.C. Immigration Reform Act, which put in place several laws that were intended to push illegal immigrants out of South Carolina. Other measures included a requirement that law enforcement ask for immigrants' documentation if they are detained for any reason and the creation of state Immigration Enforcement Unit at the S.C. Department of Public Safety.

The law included a loophole that exempted farmer workers, maids and fishermen from the E-Verify requirement.