LITTLE ROCK (AP) No contractors working on state projects have been accused of having illegal immigrants in their crews since a new law took effect this year. But that might be because no one knows how to report them or understands the law.
Legislators heralded the bill, the only during this year’s legislative session regarding immigration, as a step toward making sure state money didn’t support illegal immigrants. However, the bill named no method for reporting suspected contractors. The state agency handling contracts said it will only investigate after outside complaints, while the law’s legislative sponsor thought it gave officials power to look into any bid coming in far lower than competitors.
Despite the confusion, state Rep. Rick Green said the law will do what it was intended to do — policing state contracts while making a statement about illegal immigration.
“I do believe the value of the contracts will drive this law to be enforced,” said Green, R-Van Buren. “I may be naive about that. I don’t think so, though.”
The law, which took effect July 31, requires all contractors on projects costing $25,000 or more to promise the state that no illegal immigrants will be on its work crews. Those found violating the law have 60 days to fire the illegal immigrant workers. If the company fails to do that, the law allows the contract to be voided, which could mean millions of dollars of losses.
Subcontractors have 30 days after signing on a project to provide similar assurances. The law gives contractors the ability to fire subcontractors who violate the rule without legal repercussions.
The law covers all state agencies, colleges and universities and boards and commissions throughout Arkansas. Since August, all contractors must verify through an Internet-based system that they hire no illegal immigrants when making a bid on a state job.
So far, though, the state has received no complaints about contractors, said Joe Giddis, director of the Office of State Procurement. Giddis said the agency would accept either e-mail complaints or letters about contractors suspected of hiring illegal immigrants. However, the procurement office offers no instructions on its Web site or elsewhere on how to file a complaint.
Giddis said his agency would rely on complaints from outside to decide which contractors needed to be examined. He stressed that the procurement office doesn’t function as an investigative agency, but could break contracts if conditions aren’t met.
“If you look at the law ... it creates a situation where the use of illegal immigrants is a breach of the contract,” Giddis said. “Breaches and controversies regarding contracts fall under this office.”
Illegal immigration worries sparked a series of legislative meetings in Arkansas, home to one of the nation’s fastest-growing Hispanic communities. However, that interest failed to gain much traction during this year’s legislative session. The contractors bill became law, while a bill criminalizing the harboring or transportation of illegal immigrants died in committee.
Green said the contractors law should push the state into examining winning bids that came noticeably cheaper than competitors.
Giddis strongly disagreed, saying the agency would overstep its limited powers and open it to lawsuits.
“No, no, no, gosh no, gosh no,” Giddis said. “I’d be spending all my time in court. That’s not a feasible alternative. The way the law is written, it turns it into a breach of contract.”
As of now, the 15,000 or so companies that routinely bid on state projects will be held to their word. Green said he believes that alone should be enough, even if the law he brokered through the Legislature doesn’t do what he hoped.
“If I was going to the trouble to bid on a state contract and have my name out there, and knowing that the state has gone through this attempt to put this in the statutes, that [shows] the state is serious about this and I ought to take my contracting with them seriously,” Green said.