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City Beat: Businesses split on E-Verify system

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City Beat from the Aug. 22 City Council Meeting; For minutes and schedule, visit: springfieldmo.gov/citycouncil

Roughly 2,100 citizens have signed an initiative petition that would require all businesses within Springfield city limits to use the federal government’s online E-Verify system when determining employment eligibility among workers.

Springfield City Council, which held a public hearing during its Aug. 22 meeting, has two options: approve the measure as it is written or pass it on to voters.

City Attorney Dan Wichmer said if council passed the initiative, it could be amended, much like any other bill, almost immediately. If the measure was voted down by council and approved by citizens, it could only be modified after six months and only with a unanimous council vote.

A total of 17 people spoke on the topic, which contributed to city officials opening an overflow room on City Hall’s first floor. The room beneath the third-floor council chambers was filled with attendees who watched the proceedings on closed-circuit television.

The Ozarks Minutemen, a Springfield-based volunteer group that believes illegal immigration has a negative impact on the community, started an initiative petition in January that would prohibit businesses licensed by the city from hiring noncitizens and require use of the E-Verify system.

Ozark resident Jerry Wilson, a spokesman for the group and a retired Navy pilot, said at the meeting the ordinance was needed because “law enforcement is unable or unwilling to enforce illegal immigration laws.”

Several people said the ordinance would send a harsh message to minority communities in Springfield and cause an unnecessary burden on businesses. Others argued it would prevent companies from employing, or taking advantage of, undocumented workers.

According to DHS.gov, employers are not charged when using the system, which is operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration.

Gary Powell, partner at law firm Husch Blackwell LLP, spoke against the proposed mandatory E-Verify system. He said the measure would hurt small-business owners from a staffing standpoint because they likely don’t have the time to set up and use the free system.

“In these times, I don’t think it’s prudent to add to the cost of doing business,” Powell said.

Donald Potvin, a representative for Incredible Pizza Co., said the company has employed the system for three years at its 15 locations. He said the business employs 2,500 workers, and the system has proven helpful and effective.

“It does all the work for us,” Potvin said, adding that because the company posts notices that it uses the E-Verify system on its doors, “We know we’re getting an applicant pool of legally eligible workers.”

Users of the system have said E-Verify takes nearly one hour to install and a few minutes to run checks on each applicant.

The ordinance is expected to be voted on Sept. 5.[[In-content Ad]]

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