Temecula adopts immigration status verification law

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Steven Cuevas/KPCC

Anti-illegal immigration activists outside Temecula City Hall

Temecula is now the third Inland city in the past month to pass an ordinance cracking down on illegal immigrants and the businesses that hire them.

Businesses with one or more employee are now required to screen new hires through the E-Verify system, an otherwise voluntary program operated by the U.S. Department or Homeland Security. The E-Verify system enables employers to verify a worker’s immigration status and Social Security number.

Temecula’s decision on Tuesday to make its usage mandatory comes after a heated public hearing and dueling street protests. The push for E-Verify in several Temecula Valley cities is being spurred by local conservative activists like Shellie Milne.

“Don’t come to the greatest country in the world and think you’ll get a free ride or buck the system,” said Milne before Tuesday night’s city council meeting. She led a passionate and at times confrontational demonstration outside Temecula City Hall.

Several dozen anti-illegal immigration activists frequently tangled with a much smaller group of immigration rights activists holding a counter protest.

Much of the conservative group’s rhetoric spun beyond the issue of E-Verify and turned into broadsides against Latino activist groups, the NAACP and President Barack Obama. Tea Party movement organizer Milne even questioned Obama’s immigration status, before re-shifting her focus to the matter at hand: local cities adopting ordinances requiring employers to use the E-Verify system.

“I’m gonna go in and ask people, 'hey, you know E-verify is coming; do you know what this means? Get your affairs in order,'” said Milne. “'And just make sure everyone you employ form here on out is legal.'”

Milne says she won’t hesitate to report businesses she suspects have run afoul of the new ordinances. Temecula’s version requires all businesses with one or more employee to check the immigration status of workers through the federal E-Verify system. Employers that don’t comply or knowingly hire an undocumented worker could be forced out of business, or have their licenses to operate temporarily suspended.

Temecula joins neighboring cities Menifee and Lake Elsinore in putting E-Verify ordinances on the books. Several nearby cities are considering similar measures.

Immigration rights activist Jennaya Dunlop worries the policies will cause divisions in the communities and unfairly target Latino job applicants.

“We feel it causes divisions in the cities, causes white people to start looking with suspicion on their Latino neighbors,” said Dunlop. “It’s like an official statement from the city of hostility towards their immigrant residents.”

While Temecula employers must now promise to use the E-Verify system, the ordinance works on the honor system. There’s no inspection from the city, unless it gets a complaint that the business is employing undocumented workers or not using E-Verify. The ordinance takes effect in January.

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