Tommy’s Story Behind The Story

1 Jul


“Employment screening: Here it comes, ready or not”
Published in The Salt Lake Tribune, June 20, 2010
By Thomas Burr, Tribune Washington Bureau
IJJ Fellow, Immigration in the Heartland, 2010State lawmakers in Utah pushed through a bill this year requiring
any business with 15 or more employees to use some form of work
verification system, a move designed to eradicate jobs for
undocumented workers. The legislation was covered in Utah’s news
media but, as one might expect with the ever-churning bill machine of
a statehouse, there wasn’t much time for reporters to look into the
effects of such a major change for employers.

But it needed to be done.

Armed with the knowledge from my Immigration in the Heartland
fellowship, I dug into the story of what changes, burdens and impacts
using a verification system like the federal E-Verify program would
have on the businesses and Latino communities, how proponents think it
will work and what Congress may do with the program moving forward.

As with any story, I started with research. After the IJJ
fellowship, I knew of more places to look as well as people with whom to
speak about the impacts of E-Verify; I’ll recommend a few later. I
also took the opportunity earlier this spring to sit down with
officials from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in
Washington to see a demonstration of using E-Verify and to talk to the
program chief, Mac McMillan.

Those efforts yielded a bounty of information but one of the biggest
obstacles I found was convincing people who would be affected by the
law to talk to a reporter. The hesitancy highlighted the overwhelming
controversial nature of the issue; there was no shortage of
viewpoints, only a lack of people willing to publicly state them.

Undocumented immigrants were understandably wary, as were business
owners who feared a backlash for raising concerns. I finally found a
few undocumented immigrants in Utah willing to speak with me after
reaching out to pretty much every Latino community activist and
immigration attorney I knew in the Salt Lake area.

On the business side, I found one company, Zions Bank, which was
willing to talk about using the program since it had signed up for
E-Verify four years prior. I also spoke with the head of the Latin
American Chamber of Commerce as well as the Salt Lake Employers
Council, both of which gave great insights into what they called a
burden for small- and mid-sized employers.

Some must-have sources were easy to get and some were hard: Rep. Ken Calvert was very willing to talk about the program he helped create,
but I had to chase Sen. Lindsey Graham down a Senate hall to talk to
him about E-Verify.

It’s clear this is an ongoing storyline and even more crystal clear
there will be efforts to soften – and others to make more stringent –

Utah’s law as well as movements in Washington that expand the
verification program as a national requirement.

In the meantime, there was no shortage of website commentators or
e-mail messages about this story. The first messaged clocked in just
after dawn on Sunday thanking me for the story.

“It was well written and heart wrenching to read the stories of
undocumented people. Please keep telling their stories,” the reader

Others were not as kind. “It seems very odd that every story in the TRIB is pro illegal alien. That seems strange and worrisome to me,” another e-mail writer said. “I hope others pick up on that as well. Good reasons to stay away from Trib products and advertising unless it is free.”

But with anything so controversial, it’s bound to engender some
feelings one way or another. The good point is that people were
talking about it—and hopefully in an educated fashion.

Could I have completed this story without the background and
education provided me by the fellowship? Probably. Would it have been
as thorough and thought provoking? No.

Link to article:

A few resources:

— Daniel M. Kowalski, an immigration attorney and editor of Bender’s
Immigration Bulletin. An all-around excellent source on immigration
topics. (512) 441-1411, office. E-Mail:

—The National Conference of State Legislatures does an excellent job
tracking state laws and news about E-Verify:

— William Wright, U.S. CIS Washington spokesman, is the go-to person to
talk about the federal program. (202) 272-1299, office. E-mail


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