Most — but not all — state contracts in Virginia specifically reference a company’s legal responsibility to hire only workers legally present in the United States. But the state does little follow-up to ensure its contractors comply with those requirements, a new state study has found.
According the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, most state agencies use guidelines outlined in the Virginia Public Procurement Act to govern relationships with contractors, and the VPPA was amended in 2008 to require that state contracts require that companies not knowingly employ illegal immigrants.
The Virginia Department of Transportation and some colleges and universities are exempt from use of VPPA, and contracts there do not always mention the immigration issue.
All employers, however, are required by law to only hire workers living legally in the United States.
And the General Assembly this year passed a new law that requires that all state contractors use E-Verify by 2013, a federal database of workers authorized to work in the United States. State agencies were already required to use the system.
The brief JLARC report on state contractor hiring practices was commissioned before the passage of new state law requiring contractors to use E-Verify. It came as a result of a campaign issue during the 2010 congressional elections, when the inquiry was requested by then Virginia House of Delegates Majority Leader Del. H. Morgan Griffith, who was running for Congress at the time.
Griffith was elected to Congress in November, defeating Democratic incumbent Rick Boucher. During the campaign, independent candidate Jeremiah Heaton accused a Virginia Department of Transportation contractor of hiring undocumented workers and said Griffith had failed to stop it.
Heaton made the accusation by mailing a videotape to Griffith and local media outlets featuring himself confronting VDOT workers on the side of the road about their immigration status. According to media reports at the time, the men seemed to attempt to explain they had guest worker visas and their employer later called the accusation defamatory.
But Griffith said he thought a legislative study of state hiring practices was in order — a suggestion that resulted in the report delivered to JLARC on Monday.
The JLARC study found that there was little evidence that contractors have been hiring illegal immigrants — only one agency reported being informed of a potential violation of immigration law in the last five years and none said they had ever terminated a contract or sought damages over the issue.
But the study also found that the state has no set mechanism to find out whether contractors are violating the law.
Del. David Albo (R-Fairfax), who sits on the JLARC panel and supported the new law requiring E-Verify use by contractors, said lawmakers appeared to have few questions or concerns about the report’s findings, in part because they seemed to feel the law resolves concerns with hiring practices.
“We corrected the problem the study was meant to address,” he said.