Our latest WAAY 31 I-Team investigation looks into an effort to stop Alabama businesses from hiring illegal immigrants. Right now, state law requires all employers to use E-Verify. But, many of those companies are ignoring the law.
We worked to uncover why Alabama is falling short and what one state senator wants to do about it.
Jeffrey Dean has worked in the home building industry for more than a quarter-century. At The Reserve at Lake Guntersville, Dean’s helping build high-dollar homes with picture-perfect views. But, Dean says there’s something wrong with the picture when it comes to his pay and he says it’s been that way for decades.
"My wages have been down for years," Dean told WAAY 31. Dean blames illegal immigrant labor for holding down construction wages in Alabama.
"I sent letters to the Governor of Alabama several times complaining about it,” he told us. “I know wages are down. And sometimes you have to go a little bit further to find decent money."
State Senator Arthur Orr wants to know, "Why are we not vetting people to make sure they're able, legally, to work in this state?".
Senator Orr is investigating why some businesses in Alabama fail to comply with E-Verify. Already, state law requires all employers to use the federal database. It checks whether a job applicant is legally living in the U.S. and okay for an employer to hire.
"We need to make sure that every person here is legally eligible to work as opposed to those that are here illegally and taking jobs from American citizens," Orr told WAAY 31.
Senator Orr requested research from the State Legislative Services Agency about E-Verify use in Alabama. The report concludes Alabama’s E-Verify compliance is at only 60 percent compared to 94 percent in Georgia.
Alabama’s not alone.
According to the Pew Research Center, most state’s requiring E-Verify have compliance rates in the same range as Alabama’s: 50 percent up to two-thirds. Georgia’s high-compliance of 94 percent is unusual.
Senator Orr told WAAY 31 E-Verify laws are relatively new territory and time has proven Alabama needs to be more proactive like Georgia. "I'm going to look at a bill to see if we could bring that to Alabama -- that same system would get our compliance rate up from sixty-plus percent to ninety-plus percent like they have in Georgia," he said.
The research shows a big gap between E-Verify compliance rates in Georgia and Alabama. WAAY 31 talked with management at businesses who are following Alabama law. They tell us E-Verify is a big benefit, not only for them, but for employees and the state.
In Hartselle, Claborn Manufacturing Company builds security doors, windows and other products for jails and prisons.
We talked with the company’s chief operations officer. "We feel like it's beneficial for several reasons,” Stephen Claborn told WAAY 31.
He sizes up E-Verify as fast, efficient and easy to use. "We don't feel like it's a burden,” Claborn explained. “We feel like we're doing our duty. But, we also think that it's fair that we all use it. It's mandated for private and public businesses here in the state of Alabama.“
Claborn sees no reason why an Alabama business would not use E-Verify. "It discourages illegal immigration, number one. Number two, we feel like it helps protect the American worker against companies that might want to pay sub-standard wages. And ultimately, it decreases the burden of the American taxpayer."
Claborn supports making Alabama’s E-Verify law stronger. "I think we should all be using it."
Across the state line, Georgia requires businesses to prove they’re using E-Verify or else they don’t get a business license. That’s on the front-end of the process. In Alabama, it takes a complaint to the attorney general to begin a process that puts business licenses at risk. That’s on the back end.
Senator Orr says Alabama might need to follow Georgia’s lead. “It's something I think we can up our participation level here in Alabama using the best practices that they have discovered over in Georgia."
Back in Guntersville, Jeffrey Dean says that could level the playing field and make sure his co-workers are working here legally. "I don't mind if they come here. But, I do mind if they come here and don't make a happy home for everybody."
Senator Orr told us he’s continuing to investigate issues that might be holding down compliance with E-Verify in Alabama.