Minnesota government officials are loosely enforcing an order requiring state agencies, certain vendors and some business subsidy recipients to use an electronic system to check the immigration status of new hires, an audit released Tuesday found.
The Legislative Auditor concluded that the state isn't independently confirming that the E-Verify system is being used by employers covered by the order. The audit also found that Minnesota employers say they aren't running into the same types of data accuracy problems reported elsewhere.
E-Verify matches Social Security, birth and immigration documentation with information supplied by job applicants to determine if they are legally permitted to work in the country.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty directed the use of the system in a 2008 executive order. It applies to the state's executive branch and vendors with state contracts exceeding $50,000.
As of March, there were 1,400 state vendors that would have fallen subject to the requirement. Another 40 businesses in targeted subsidy programs also are included.
Responding to the audit, the GOP governor said he wants the state bureaucracy to be more forceful in carrying out his order.
"We're not going to be able to go and look over their shoulder in every transaction and every instance, but we have to have enough mechanisms in place to be confident they are doing what they're supposed to do," Pawlenty said.
He said he would favor random compliance checks or instructions that businesses certify their use of the program under threat of penalties.
Nationwide, the E-Verify system is being used by more than 100,000 employers. Minnesota is one of about a dozen states that have laws or administrative orders commanding the use of E-Verify, and others are considering it. The federal government also imposes its use on certain contractors.
Deborah Parker Junod, who managed the audit, said the state has been slow to use the system to verify the status of its own hires, citing difficulty of putting a statewide data management policy in place.
"They've had 18 months to do something that the governor ordered and they haven't done it yet?" Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, asked Junod at a hearing on the audit.
"That's correct," she said.
Pawlenty said he will demand his agencies get on board.
The audit, which piggybacks on a federal E-Verify review by the investigative arm of Congress, relied on a survey of businesses subject to Pawlenty's order. Sixty percent replied that they were registered for E-Verify or actively using it. The rest weren't registered or didn't answer.
The audit found that the state reviews E-Verify compliance by businesses under state contract only if it receives allegations of violations.
"As with other laws, the department will follow up through appropriate channels if allegations of violations are reported," Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Dan McElroy wrote in response to the audit.
"However, the department is not responsible for independently verifying that businesses are complying with federal employment laws."
Two other agency commissioners with responsibility under Pawlenty's order described the limited scope of their duties in separate letters.
The state has the power to cancel contracts and disqualify vendors from future work if they are found to be in violation of the E-Verify requirement.
Auditors attempted to assess the costs of the program to employers but weren't able to provide a hard number.
They offered estimates supplied by survey respondents, some of whom said it took only several hundred dollars to implement while others said the program consumes $10,000 annually when personnel time is accounted for.
Minnesota's auditors also couldn't say how the use of the system here has affected employment. The audit merely relays federal statistics that 93 percent of the E-Verify checks resulted in an immediate verification of a hire's eligibility between 2005 and 2007.
In most cases, new hires examined by the system were found eligible to work. Employees flagged by the system have the ability to contest the finding.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)