Senate File 243 has been years in the making, according to Republican Sen. Julian Garrett. The bill would make E-Verify mandatory for Iowa employers, no matter how big or small.
Garrett said it’s just a matter of submitting a lot of the information that employers are already collecting from new employees. Currently about 3,000 Iowa employers voluntarily use the program.
“One testified before our subcommittee and all of them talk about how easy it is to use,” Garrett said.
Garrett said 99 percent of people inquired about are found to be legally able to work, according to the Homeland Security website.
“If an employer is known to be using E-Verify, they don’t even get applications from people who wouldn’t pass,” Garrett said.
If errors are made in the process, Garrett said employees and employers have opportunities to work things out. The most common mistake, he said, are recent newlyweds who changed names.
Upon a first violation, the court would order the employer to terminate the employment of all unauthorized aliens and submit a sworn affidavit to that effect or face suspension of business licenses. There would also be a three-year probationary period.
First-time offenders will also be listed in an online database maintained by the Secretary of State. Business licenses are the most direct way for the state to punish employers since federal law preempts most state law in immigration.
An amendment passed to the bill as county attorneys pointed out they aren’t involved in civil matters. The entity that will investigate and prosecute is now the workforce development agency.
Democrat Sen. Rob Hogg said he is a strong supporter of federal employment verification and supports penalties for employers, but the bill wasn’t worth his support.
“This bill is just too sloppy,” he said. “I thought about trying to offer a bunch of amendments to try to fix it in committee, but if it comes up on the floor we’ll do that. More importantly, it’s too soft on bad employers and too hard on good Iowa employers.”
Hogg said thousands of U.S. citizens are wrongly flagged as undocumented annually. It would also put Iowa businesses at a disadvantage since it isn’t a national requirement.
E-Verify was shut down during what Hogg called the Trump government shutdown.
“Iowa employers would just be waiting for the federal government to get its act,” Hogg said. “This issue should be addressed nationally.”
Hogg said he understood Republicans may be embarrassed that their party had the trifecta in Washington D.C. for two years and still failed to address immigration issues.
“Senator Garrett acknowledged a bunch of things we can’t do, there’s a reason for that,” Hogg said. “That’s because immigration is a national issue.”
Hogg suggested a resolution imploring U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst to do something at that level.
“I still believe that Sen. Ernst and Sen. Grassley can actually get their job done and pass immigration reform at the national level,” Hogg said.
Republican Sen. Zach Nunn talked about fighting against human trafficking for both the sexual exploitation and the labor exploitation. He said it’s a very good bill and holds employers accountable.
“It looks to make sure that legal immigrants are taken care of the same way we would take care of illegal immigrants,” he said. “We can’t stop what’s happening at the federal level, but we can make a different right here in Iowa in what we do to make bad employers accountable.”
Garrett said the bill passed years ago in Arizona and the case went to the United States Supreme Court. The bill was ruled fine, he said.
“I read about that and I said if they can do that in Arizona, that’s something we ought to do here in Iowa,” Garrett said. “We already know it’s already been through the U.S. Supreme Court, so it’s a good bill.”
Employers who hire illegal aliens are being unfair to law-abiding employers and employees.
“Some employers cut their costs by hiring people they can pay substandard wages to,” he said. “Wages are a big cost to most businesses. If you can get cheap labor, that gives you a big, competitive advantage over your competitors who are law-abiding people.”
As for the inability of the U.S. Senate to get anything done, Garrett reminded Hogg 60 votes are necessary to accomplish anything controversial there and Republicans aren’t quite up to that number.
“I think we all agree this should be done at the federal level,” Garrett said. “I thank everybody who cosponsored, myself and 25 cosponsors in the senate. I look forward to passing it out of the committee and passing it on the floor.”
Democrat Senators Rich Taylor, Hogg, Janet Petersen and Kevin Kinney voted against the bill.