Frustrated with what they perceive as federal roadblocks to authenticating the legal status of employees working on local government contracts, Collier County commissioners Tuesday hinted they may double down in the fight to make businesses hire only documented workers.
In spite of warnings of likely litigation, Commissioner Chairman Fred Coyle asked County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow to prepare a report outlining the board’s options for imposing fines on firms that do work for the county without thoroughly checking their workforce for illegal immigrants.
Current county purchasing policy requires companies bidding for jobs like median landscaping and building maintenance to comply with federal laws. Implicit is the understanding that bidders will sign up for and use E-Verify, a federal database that can quickly confirm whether a new employee is entitled to work in the U.S.
But the provisions has been poorly enforced, with the county largely trusting winning bidders to sign up for E-Verify. A spot check of county contracts over recent months shows many bidders haven’t been registered with E-Verify.
Coyle pressed staff as to why the county would even accept a bid from a business that can’t prove it’s on board with E-Verify. “Why is that certification not part of the contract evaluation process? I don’t understand why there’s so much reluctance to do this. It’s still not clear to me that staff understands what we’re trying to do here.” Coyle said.
Under pressure from Coyle, purchasing director Steve Carnell agreed that the staff would demand proof of E-Verify participation earlier in the bid process, even if it means a low bidder might be knocked out of the running because of a paperwork omission. But he cautioned that even if an employer is registered with E-Verify, there’s no way for the county to find out if he’s actually using it.
Privacy laws prevent the county from obtaining individual employment status for people working for an outside contractor, administrative services director Len Golden Price told the board.
That set off a cascade of criticism of Washington.
Even Klatzkow got into the act. “Plain and simple, it was the policy of the federal government to allow cheap, illegal immigration into this country from Mexico. When there’s criminality involved, that’s when they get involved and that’s what they say in their briefs,” Klatzkow said.
“They’ve been attacking local and state governments that are doing exactly what you’re trying to do right now. The federal government does not make it easy.”
The brief Klatzkow refers to was filed in the federal government’s challenge of Arizona’s new immigration law. While it does not explicitly say the federal government has been allowing "cheap" illegal immigration, it does say that Arizona’s attempt to target anyone stopped by police without proper identification will divert resources, “away from high-priority targets, such as aliens implicated in terrorism, drug smuggling, and gang activity, and those with criminal records.”
Commissioner Jim Coletta questioned whether the county should press on with the E-Verify requirement, given the possibility of a lawsuit like those encountered by Arizona and other places that have tried to force its use.
But Coyle pulled in the opposite direction, saying the county should consider fining any firm caught failing to follow through on its commitment to use E-Verify.
“Do we have the authority to levy monetary sanctions on people who violate our contractual requirements?” he asked.
Answered Klatzkow, “Yes, but if you do that you will be challenged.”
“I don’t care. If we’re challenged and they win we’ll quit doing it but up until that time why can’t we do that? I’m as tired of dealing with this as all the other people are. The federal government has just flatly refused to carry out their responsibility and I’m willing to do something to try to stop what’s happened here.”
Connect with Brent Batten at naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten