Georgia Department of Agriculture slow to verify status of workers

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ATLANTA — A recent audit found Georgia’s Department of Agriculture didn’t use a federal database to determine whether new employees were eligible to work there, a requirement under a state law targeting illegal immigration.

When auditors reviewed a sample of the department’s hiring documents for the year ending in June 2012, they realized the agency was not immediately using the E-Verify database to confirm the eligibility of new hires.

Former Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a law that required all public employers to start suing the E-Verify system in mid-2007; however, the Agriculture Department did not start using the system until April 2012, according to Steve Blando, a spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The requirement took effect while Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin, a Democrat, was in office. He was succeeded in 2011 by Gary Black, a Republican.

Black’s office was warned of the problem in an audit released in November 2011. Though officials thought the personnel office had started using the electronic database, it had not, spokeswoman Mary Kathryn Yearta said. An employee in the personnel office has been reprimanded, she said.

She said the problem was one of several inherited from the Irvin administration.

“It’s a lame excuse, but there were so many problems down here, there were so many things that needed improving, it was not brought to our attention,” she said.

Anti-illegal immigration activist D.A. King said that Black was in office for more than a year before the problem was fixed.

Black supported making E-Verify use mandatory when he testified before Congress last year.

“Legal service reform, housing vouchers, expanded eligibility, and transferring authority to USDA are ideas that warrant immediate consideration,” Black said, according to his prepared testimony. “These proposals and others must not compete with, but should be complemented by mandatory e-verify, in my view.”


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