Denver Council Considers E-Verify Requirement For Contracts

Economic Development Committee Approves Proposed Ordinance For Construction Companies

Construction companies wanting to do business with the city of Denver may soon be required to use the federal government’s E-Verify system to prove that all new employees are legally entitled to work in the United States.

The City Council’s economic development committee voted 4 to 1 Wednesday to forward the proposal to the entire council.

It would apply to construction companies winning city contracts.

The E-Verify system, an Internet based system operated by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service and the Social Security Administration, is already required for use by companies providing services to the city.

City Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz is one of the sponsors.

She told 7NEWS that a recent check of one company doing curb work in her district showed that 12 of the 25 employees had Social Security numbers that did not match their names.

"You can draw your own conclusions,” Faatz said. “We were laying off perfectly qualified city employees because of the budget crunch and yet money was being given to people who were not legally qualified to work for private contractors."

When asked about the 12 employees with questionable Social Security numbers, Faatz said, "One or two may be a mistake, but half the workforce? We have some type of problem here and we’ve got to get in front of it."

"When times are tough, people get angry," said Councilman Chris Nevitt, the other sponsor. "People look for scapegoats."

Nevitt said it’s easy to look at any construction site around the city and draw the wrong conclusion.

"I think it's important for us, as a city, to say, 'No. Everybody who got hired for this project went through a process to ensure they are eligible to work here.'"

But others, like Councilman Paul Lopez, see a potential problem.

"I want to make sure that, just because someone changes their name through marriage or because there is some kind of mix up with Social Security numbers, there is some kind of appeals process and that they’re not fired unreasonably," Lopez said. "I want to make sure that people are not targeted just because of the color of their skin or because they have an accent."

Julie Gonzales of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition also sees potential problems.

"We still see that there are flaws in the program and why should we expand something that has flaws?" Gonzales asked.

Under Faatz’ and Nevitt’s proposal, the auditor would be responsible for enforcing the new rule, if passed.

Auditor spokesman Denis Berckefeldt told 7NEWS that most companies already comply.

"There are always bad apples." Berckefeldt said, "But they’re generally a small number, so I anticipate that contractors know they're supposed to be doing this now."

Berckefeldt added that the auditor’s office oversees upward of $700 million worth of construction contracts every year.

"I don’t know that we’re going to see much of a change," he said. "Most companies that do business with the city comply with the law."

If the E-Verify proposal passes the entire council, it would take effect for construction companies on Sept. 1.