In the first quarter of 2011, 26 states enacted 63 laws and adopted 78 resolutions relating to immigrants and refugees. An additional 37 bills were awaiting governors’ signatures. A number of these laws directly impact employer obligations for screening job applicants. A summary of the key provisions of several new laws sweeping the South follows:

Alabama: This law, which becomes effective Sept. 1, 2011, requires employers to attest that they do not employ unauthorized aliens in order to receive government contracts, grants or incentives; and all such recipients must enroll in E-Verify. Violation of the law justifies government contract termination and business license/permit suspension for up to 60 days. It also could lead to debarment from further contracts.

Additionally, every business entity or employer must enroll in E-Verify by April 1, 2012. Thereafter, penalties for knowingly hiring an unauthorized worker are severe, including loss of a business license, the prohibition of all tax deductions for payments made to unauthorized aliens, and a penalty of 10 times the disallowed business expense deduction. If an employer enrolls in E-Verify, it has a complete defense to the employment of an unauthorized worker. 

Georgia: This law, signed on May 13, 2011, requires all private employers with more than 10 employees to enroll in E-Verify. The deadlines are staggered based on the employer’s size: Employers with 500 or more employees must enroll by Jan. 1, 2012; employers with 100 to 499 employees must do so by July 1, 2012; and employers with 11 to 99 employees must enroll by July 1, 2013.

Further, no county or municipality may issue or renew a business license, occupational tax certificate, or other document required to operate a business unless it receives proof via an affidavit that the business is enrolled in—or exempt from using—E-Verify. Employers that commit a good-faith violation of the law will be given 30 days to demonstrate compliance. Knowing submission of a false or misleading affidavit is a misdemeanor.

Louisiana: This law, signed on June 23, 2011, requires employers to either enroll in E-Verify or demand picture identification in addition to a U.S. birth certificate, naturalization certificate, alien registration receipt card or U.S. immigration Form I-94. Employers that rely on E-Verify to determine eligibility will not be penalized for the accidental employment of an unauthorized individual.

Employers may be fined up to $250 for their first violation. Second violations may result in the suspension of an employer’s business license and a fine up to $500 for each illegal alien employed. Subsequent violations may result in longer suspensions, as well as a fine of up to $1,000 for each illegal worker employed.

Separately, on June 22, lawmakers sent the governor a bill requiring employers seeking public contracts to verify in a sworn affidavit that they have enrolled in E-Verify. Employers violating the bill would be subject to cancellation of any public contract and otherwise ineligible to bid on any public contract for up to three years. The governor is widely expected to sign this bill into law.

Given the federal government’s apparent inability to pass a comprehensive immigration reform law, border and other Southern states are expected to continue to pass a patchwork of laws that obligate employers to serve as proxy immigration control officers.