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LLR set to enforce immigration law at S.C. businesses

By Liz Segrist
Published Jan. 16, 2012

The S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation will perform audits internally to enforce South Carolina’s new immigration law rather than hire a private contractor.

The immigration law went into effect Jan. 1 requiring all businesses to verify new employees’ citizenship.

The Labor, Licensing and Regulation Department, or LLR, expected to hire a private contractor to conduct the audits in conjunction with the LLR as of December. LLR published a request for proposal in October that was open to any vendors in the state through the state contract procurement process.

“For now, this [audits] is going to be done in house. We will re-evaluate after the program is up and running,” said Lesia Kudelka, LLR’s communications director, in an email.

All public employers, contractors, subcontractors and private employers are now required to enroll in the federal E-Verify System and register all new hires in it. The E-Verify System is a free, online system that compares documents and I-9 forms to electronically verify the employment eligibility and citizenship of newly hired employees. S.C. businesses can learn more here.

Previous coverage

The LLR will do routine audits of employers to determine compliance with the law, as well as investigate into complaints of employers allegedly not using E-Verify or hiring unauthorized workers. Employers risk their business license if not compliant.

The estimated annual budget for LLR to run this program is $250,000. This includes about $15,000 for operating costs and around $22,000 for travel costs, as well as $46,500 for employer contributions for employee benefits, such as retirement and health insurance.

The budget also allocated around $166,000 for total personnel; with around $79,800 for a program manager and roughly $86,000 for two program coordinators. The Budget Proviso 65.8 directs LLR to pay for the program with funds carried forward from the prior fiscal year.

“We won’t hit every business. No inspection program of any kind ever gets to every business,” said Jim Knight, the LLR’s Immigrant Worker Compliance Office administrator. “The key is the awareness that there’s a law requiring compliance and an agency conducting audits to ensure compliance through a fair sample of employers at random.”

Audit process

Routine audits will occur throughout the state at all types of businesses without targeting any particular industries. The audit might take place by mail, email or an onsite visit.

The number of employees employed will not impact the audit process. The focus is on the number of employees hired after Jan. 1. The audit does not include any undercover investigations, such as sending in an unauthorized worker to an employer.

Every employer has to enroll in the E-Verify system by Jan. 1 and verify new hires within three business days from then on to be in compliance. During the first six months of 2012, sanctions will not be imposed on an employer found not to be enrolled.

Consequences go into effect July 1, ranging from one-year probation to business licenses being revoked for up to five years, depending on the number of violations within certain time frames.

Debated law

Gov. Nikki Haley signed the law June 27, expanding off of the 2008 Act, now requiring every S.C. employer to register for and participate in E-Verify.

Proponents of the law say it will help maintain a legal workforce and protect the jobs of authorized workers. Opponents say it might create more work for overburdened businesses and it could overlap with federal agencies’ immigration goals.

The U.S. Department of Justice sued to block the law Oct. 31, arguing that state government can’t decide immigration enforcement. Alabama and Arizona laws were previously sued by the department as well.

Some highly contested components of the law were blocked when U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel’s issued an opinion in December, including:

  • Having police check the immigration status of a person stopped for even minor traffic offenses if they have “reasonable suspicion” the person is in the country illegally.
  • Arresting people on charges of harboring or transporting illegal immigrants.
  • Requiring people to carry immigration documents.

Gergel’s ruling did leave the provision requiring employers to use E-Verify to check workers’ eligibility. Gergel also let stand provisions authorizing the Department of Public Safety to form a 10-officer immigration enforcement unit, and provisions making it a crime for illegal immigrants to sell fake IDs.

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