Documentation sought for legal aliens

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

One man's concern that illegal aliens might be employed by contractors replacing Marshall County's Courthouse roof and restoring clock towers has grown into advocacy for federal reporting standards on county projects.

Michael Bass of Lewisburg took his concerns to several county officials and it became a topic of discussion last week during a meeting of the county commission's Buildings Committee and a periodic construction conference of the contractors.

"We all know what to do," D.F. Chase Construction Superintendent Billy Gatlin told leaders of the company's subcontractors, project architect James Kennon, Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett, and county codes inspector Don Nelson. "Everybody knows the laws passed in 2008 about immigration.

"They have the right to work here if they have the right paperwork," Gatlin said. "I'm not worried about it. We've talked with our superiors.

"I've seen zero instances where we have illegal immigrants," Gatlin said. "I know no one wants a $10,000 fine."

On that point, Robert Dexter, project manager for D.F. Chase, emphasized - those who know the company's chief financial officer would comply with the fiscal conservative's directives.

Bass took his concerns to the county mayor's office and Liggett said, "Fortunately somebody was able to talk with the gentleman."

While the contractors' discussion reflected greater interest in Courthouse restoration than verification that a Hispanic worker is in this country legally, the men knew that Bass' concern included a desire to prove or disprove any allegation that "their IDs are false."

Without proof, Bass pressed the issue and asked if county officials have proof that Hispanics working at the courthouse are legal immigrants.

He pointed to documents on an Internet Web site about compliance with the completion of the federally required I-9 form. A printout of that page offers viewer a link to "become a client."

Bass has indicated that I-9 forms are to be on display electronically on the Internet for businesses with federal contracts. Marshall County Courthouse restoration is funded with money raised through the sale of county bonds that pay income tax free interest income to the holders.

In reaction to the enactment of the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act, the business "founders of 'Form I-9 Compliance' worked closely with the Immigration and Naturalization Service [apparently before ICE, Immigration, Customs and Enforcement, the new agency that was created with Homeland Security] to develop the original Form I-9 and they have been providing I-9 consulting services since," according to the web site.

Bass has asked why contractors don't use the web site to be able to show all visitors to the site that they can verify immigrants are working here legally.

Employers have the option to comply with the requirement for an I-9 form by completing a paper document instead of one on a subscriber-supported Internet service, according to discussion among contractors.

"Any Hispanics we have working now, have the proper paperwork," Dan Garman of Village Roofing in Columbia said during the contractors' conference on the morning of Jan. 4 in the Courthouse Annex conference room.

"Of 30-35 employees, 10 are Hispanic," Garman said. The I-9s, W-2 income tax records, and mandatory IDs are known to their employers.

"In 10 years, one notice from the government was about one white guy in Wyoming," Garman said of his employer's track record. He said he has no reason to believe that his Hispanic workers aren't here legally.

Gatlin said that in three and a half years he's not had a subcontractor fired for immigration issues. Dexter has worked for D.F. Chase for some 15 years and didn't recall such an instance.

The subject was briefly mentioned by County Commissioner Wilford "Spider" Wentzel at the conclusion of the commissioners' Building Committee meeting on the evening of Jan. 4.