Springfield City Council reluctantly certifies E-Verify requirement

Wednesday, February 22, 2012 | 12:08 p.m. CST

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield City Council voted on Tuesday night to certify the results of the Feb. 7 election in which voters approved the ordinance requiring Springfield businesses to use the federal E-Verify system to check employees' immigration status. Businesses will be subject to fines if they don't use the system.

Greg Burris, the Springfield city manager said he is praying someone launches a legal challenge to the ordinance so the city doesn't have to enforce it.

Certifying the election means the ordinance cannot be amended for six months and then only by a unanimous vote of the council, The Springfield News-Leader reported.

City officials have repeatedly said that the ordinance, drafted by the Ozarks Minutemen, is likely to be challenged in court because parts of it are illegal and it raises many questions about how the city should enforce it.

"I'm praying that we'll be sued so there will be a stay on enforcement," Burris said after Tuesday's meeting.

Burris said the city might be able to avoid enforcing sections of the ordinance that are illegal, such as fines forbidden by federal law.

"The challenge is going to be the gray area where something is legal but untenable," he said.

For example, Burris said, the ordinance requires the city to suspend the business license of any employer found to have workers prohibited by law from working. The penalty applies if a business doesn't provide an affidavit to the city that it has enrolled in the E-Verify program, or fails to provide E-Verify paperwork to the city within three days of receiving a complaint.

The ordinance is so broad that it could apply to employers of any size, from a homeowner hiring a housekeeper to a hospital, Burris said.

"How do you shut down a hospital for even one hour? How do you shut down City Utilities?" he asked. "This would obviously be a worst-case scenario, but this is the way the bill approved by voters was written. These are the things we're trying to work through."

Although City Attorney Dan Wichmer said the council had an administrative duty to certify that the election was conducted properly, Mayor Jim O'Neal and Councilmen Scott Bailes and Doug Burlison still voted no.

"I will not vote to certify this unless a court of law forces me to," O'Neal said.

O'Neal said the ordinance was "crafted to fit one narrow-minded point of view" and was inaccurately portrayed as a vote on illegal immigration.

"I think (the public) voted for something other than what they're getting," he said. "We cannot fix this. It cannot be fixed ... It's just a dark day for the city that we have to go down this road."

Others voted "yes" reluctantly, providing the five votes needed to pass.

Jerry Wilson, a spokesman for the Ozarks Minutemen, said he was disappointed but not surprised by some of the statements made Tuesday.

"What it sounds like to me is City Council and city staff are looking for ways to make this not work, instead of looking for ways to make the ordinance work," he said. "Even though this wasn't a perfect ordinance, it was and is our best opportunity to eliminate the job magnet that attracts illegal aliens to Springfield."

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