There’s a lot of evidence that illegal immigrants are using counterfeit documents and stolen IDs to get jobs in the area, according to the Beaufort County administrator.
Gary Kubic said Monday that the county has conducted hundreds of audits of businesses and their hiring practices over the last several months and he’s surprised by the amount of phony documents employees have submitted to those businesses.
Kubic would not get any more specific than to say, "It is more prevalent and a larger problem than what I thought."
The county, with the help of private security firm Advance Point Global, began auditing businesses in April that operate in unincorporated parts of the county to see if their federally required immigration documents are filled out properly.
Advance Point Global’s CEO Andy Patrick, who conducts many of the audits himself, said at Monday’s Beaufort County Council meeting that while examining businesses’ I-9 forms, he was coming across possible criminal activity. The I-9s are forms that contain a worker’s name and typically that person’s Social Security number.
Patrick called the amount of evidence he was seeing "significant," though he declined to say how many of the 358 audited businesses have had questionable I-9s. He also wouldn’t give a percentage or ballpark figure, or names of businesses with questionable documents.
Councilman Skeet Von Harten asked Patrick if there was "an industry of illegal documents in Beaufort County?"
Patrick said yes, adding that "any information that we develop that would indicate use of counterfeit documents is turned over to the county and subsequently turned over to the sheriff."
Kubic was quick to point out that the allegations of counterfeit documents and stolen IDs doesn’t mean that a business owner has broken the law.
A county ordinance -- and federal law -- penalizes employers who knowingly hire workers who are in the country illegally. Under the ordinance, the maximum penalty a business can face is to be stripped of its county license. But an employer who unwittingly hires an illegal immigrant isn’t punished.
Council Chairman Weston Newton said that it would be "employees themselves, not the employer" who probably would be in hot water when the Sheriff’s Office investigates allegations of counterfeiting or stolen IDs.
Sheriff P.J. Tanner said deputies trained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to enforce immigration laws would look at the evidence. However, that won’t happen until a 90-day ICE operation to identify illegal immigrants booked in the county jail concludes at the end of September. Tanner said his deputies trained in that area are busy assisting ICE agents with that program.
Of the businesses audited so far, 42 percent of them are based in southern Beaufort County; 54 percent are north of the Broad River and 4 percent are based outside of the county.