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Cowlitz County now requires contractors to use E-Verify to prove that their workers are legal.

County commissioners voted Tuesday to add the requirement. Anyone vying for a county contract now will have to certify that they've used the federal program to verify that they and their employees working on the project are "in compliance with federal employment laws." That may include using the federal E-Verify system, but is not limited to it, according to the resolution the commissioners adopted.

The free, federal online E-Verify system allows employers to verify potential employees are American citizens or have a legal green card.

Commissioner James Misner called the decision a "no brainer," saying the federal system allows employers to verify a social security number is accurate rather than just take a copy and file it with employment paperwork.

Backers of the requirement say that without the requirement illegal immigrants could flock to Cowlitz County looking for work. Both Clark and Lewis counties now require E-Verify, as does the city of Woodland.

"It's not about what country someone might be coming from, it's ‘Are you following the rules?' and puts everyone on an even playing field," Misner said.

Commissioners Mike Karnofski and George Raiter said they'd had some reservation about adding another government requirement, especially because employers already can use the system if they chose. Raiter also said he worried about possible racial profiling.

But, the Lower Columbia Contractor's Association's backing of the project held a lot of weight, the commissioners said before approving the measure unanimously. Raiter also said it made sense to have the county in line with federal contract requirements.

Monty Cobb, the county's chief civil prosecutor, told commissioners the E-Verify requirement applies to any contractor employee who will work on the project - no matter how long they've been employed.

Members of the Citizens for Responsible Government volunteer group first asked commissioners to require the use of E-Verify in August of 2010. In April, they returned, saying they were repeating their request after the county hadn't acted. Tuesday, members gave each other thumbs up signs after the commissioners' vote.

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