After careful discussion that lasted more than two hours, the Murrieta City Council voted unanimously to draft an ordinance that, if passed, will mandate local businesses to use the federal E-Verify program to confirm workers’ immigration status.
The online E-Verify system relies on Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records, providing employers with near-instant information on a prospective worker’s immigration status.
Last month, the five-member Murrieta council directed the city attorney’s office to review the feasibility of implementing E-Verify.
While all councilmembers expressed support for E-Verify Tuesday night, there were concerns about pending legal challenges, as well as implementation and enforcement.
Two pending legal cases challenge E-Verify and the Supreme Court is slated to begin hearing arguments on them later this year.
“It’s not a matter of should we do this but when,” Mayor Kelly Bennett said. “I would prefer to wait until we hear from the Supreme Court.”
Councilman Randon Lane argued that Murrieta shouldn’t wait.
“We have to lead. This is a first step,” he said.
“This council has never backed away from an issue, even in the face of huge litigation,” Councilman Doug McAllister said.
Councilman Gary Thomasian urged that an ordinance carefully spell out enforcement.
“If we can’t enforce it, we’re no different than the federal government,” he said.
Before casting their votes Tuesday night, councilmembers took time considering E-Verify.
Thomasian questioned Murrieta Senior Management Analyst Brian Ambrose about how other Southwest Riverside cities are enforcing E-Verify.
“It’s weak in all cities that have passed an ordinance,” Ambrose responded.
Murrieta City Manager Rick Dudley clarified that all Southwest Riverside cities that have adopted an E-Verify ordinance are enforcing it on a complaint-driven basis only.
Menifee, Lake Elsinore, and Temecula have all voted to adopt E-Verify.
Mayor Bennett called on Ambrose to clarify the current pending legal challenges.
Ambrose said that E-Verify is not a flawless system, and that mandating an imperfect program might be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Mayor Bennett also asked Murrieta Economic Development Director Bruce Coleman to address concerns about whether the city would become a safe haven for illegal workers if an E-Verify ordinance were postponed until a Supreme Court decision.
“I don’t see a tremendous risk,” he said, noting that Murrieta’s largest employers attract more high-skilled labor.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, 17 people spoke in favor E-Verify; seven were Murrieta residents. No one in the audience spoke against E-Verify.
Amy Labruvere of Temecula addressed council to express her support of E-Verify. Her voice trembling at times, Labruvere said jobs are being lost to illegal immigrants.
“The hope is being taken away by the illegals,” she said.
Diana Serafin, an unemployed Murrieta resident, broke down during her public commentary.
“There’s no jobs,” she said in a shaking voice. “We have families. We need your help. We need jobs in the city. I’m begging, please pass E-Verify.”
Toni McAllister is SWRNN’s lifestyles editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 951-234-0704. Follow her on Twitter at SWRNNaelife.