Nearly 600 government agencies face penalties under immigration law

Nearly 600 city and county government agencies across Georgia face losing access to tens of millions of dollars in state loans and grants for not complying with a central part of the state’s immigration law.

At issue is a requirement that government employers with two or more employees file annual reports certifying they and their public works contractors are using E-Verify. The federal work authorization program helps confirm newly hired employees are eligible to work in the United States.

This month, the state Audits and Accounts Department sent a list of 570 government agencies to the Department of Community Affairs, saying they have not filed annual E-Verify reports. The letter says those not complying with the law could be cut off from certain state funding — including state community development block grants — until they file their reports with state auditors.

The state’s list includes four counties outside the Atlanta area, more than 130 cities across the state and more than 400 other government entities, including hospital, housing and development authorities.

State Auditor Greg Griffin cautioned in his letter that some might have no employees and would therefore be exempt under the law. Many cities, for example, have one or no employees and operate with the help of volunteers and contractors. A Department of Community Affairs official said Tuesday that his agency would send an email reminding government agencies on the list to comply with the state’s immigration law.

Butts County and the Atlanta-area cities of East Point, Lilburn and Norcross are on the list state auditors identified this month. Lilburn and Butts officials said they were using E-Verify as required by law and would send the state reports that certify this. East Point and Norcross officials said they were looking into the matter.

State lawmakers passed the comprehensive immigration law last year, aiming to preserve jobs in Georgia for U.S. citizens. The Pew Hispanic Center estimated that 325,000 illegal immigrants held jobs in Georgia in 2010. The state’s unemployment rate stands at 9.3 percent.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported on widespread gaps in the annual E-Verify reporting on June 24. The first reports were due by Dec. 31. Some local government officials said they were unaware of the law. Others blamed their missing reports on staff turnovers and heavy workloads. Sandy Springs and several other local governments filed their reports after the AJC contacted them.

On June 25, state auditors sent out a letter warning nearly 1,200 government agencies that they were not complying with the law and that the Immigration Enforcement Review Board could sanction them. That punishment could include fines up to $5,000 for officials who “knowingly” violate the law. A state auditor indicated many government agencies responded to that warning letter.

On July 2, D.A. King, an advocate for enforcement of U.S. immigration and employment laws, filed a complaint with the board, alleging that more than 1,000 city and county government agencies were not complying. The board plans to discuss the issue at its public meeting at 2:30 p.m. Thursday in Room 606 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building, across from the state Capitol in downtown Atlanta.

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