The Iowa Senate passed a bill that would make E-Verify mandatory in the state. The legislation picked up bipartisan support as Democrat Senators list here joined most Republicans in supporting the measure. Republican Sen. Mark Lofgren (R-Muscatine) voted against the bill.

Senator Julian Garrett (R-Indianola) managed the bill on the floor.

Senator Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) introduced an amendment that he thought would improve the bill. He opened his remarks, though, by saying it’s unfortunate the state of Iowa has to have the conversation.

“I think we all agree that what really needs to happen is, we urgently need comprehensive federal immigration reform,” Hogg said. “It’s been frustrating for me to listen to this debate.”

Hogg said the last time there was a legitimate effort to reform the federal immigration system was in 2013 when Senate Democrats passed legislation that the Republican-controlled House refused to act upon.

“And in the last four years under Republican control, Congress has failed to act,” he said.

During government shutdowns, Hogg said the E-Verify system won’t work. Hogg’s amendment would address what he called loopholes in the bill.

Hogg said if an employer has multiple locations, the punishment in the bill would only apply to the specific location where an undocumented worker was working.

He also said his amendment would close tax credit loopholes. Hogg’s amendment involves ICE when an employer is found by the Department of Workforce Development to have violated Iowa’s law. Hogg’s amendment would provide a workforce licensing fee of $5,000 per year for an employer found to have knowingly hired an “undocumented” worker.

Senator Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames) spoke in support of Hogg’s amendment. He called out rampant hypocrisy on the immigration issue because some people speak out against illegal immigration but are pocketing profits from exploiting foreign workers.

Garrett said Hogg’s amendment is complicated. He started out defending Sen. Charles Grassley on the federal level, stating that Grassley has worked for years to pass a bill that mandates E-Verify use.

Garrett acknowledged E-Verify doesn’t work when the government is shut down, but Hogg’s amendment would not remedy that situation. Garrett said his bill has been out there for a while and everyone has had a chance to look it over. Yet Hogg came up with an amendment that rewrites the bill as debate was finishing.

Key to the discussion was the figure 0.16 percent. Garrett said of the 1.09 percent of people who are not verified, only 0.16 percent of those are eventually confirmed.

Senator Nate Boulton (D-Des Moines) said he supported Hogg’s amendment. he wanted to see stiffer penalties for employees.

“(It) starts addressing the illegal and abusive employment practices in this state with some real accountability for employers,” Boulton said. “The idea that we’re going to just penalize individuals and let employers go on about their business in many of these cases doesn’t do anything to tell employers to stop abusing a work force.”

Hogg’s amendment failed. He withdrew his subsequent amendments.

Garrett had two amendments pass. One fixed a problem with the bill on definitions. The other amendment prohibited federal funds from being used in enforcing the law.

Senator Kevin Kinney (D-Oxford) offered an amendment that would keep E-Verify as voluntary and instead use finger prints as a way to verify whether someone can legally work in America.

Kinney said he’s heard from constituents in his district that a way around the E-Verify system is to use paper work and other information necessary to secure a job. The best way to stop that, Kinney said, is through requiring finger prints and a photo placed in each employee’s personnel file.

“This isn’t singling out one group of individuals as everyone has to be finger printed,” Kinney said.

It’s already required for some jobs, Kinney said.

Garrett, though, said there were two problems with the amendment. The first is that it makes E-Verify voluntary again. The second is that we don’t have finger prints for everyone legally able to work in America.

“For his proposal to work we’d have to have finger prints on file from every employee I guess in our country plus all those coming across the border illegally,” Garrett said. “It’s just not a workable solution for what we’re trying to get at.”

Senator Zach Nunn (R-Altoona) said he was proud to cosponsor the legislation. He said this bill would help combat human trafficking. Nunn said the state should be doing whatever it can to oppose all the activities that come with illegal immigration.

“We have a principle of fairness across the board,” Nunn said.

Bad employers should not be rewarded with cheap labor, he said. All employers will be held accountable under this bill.

Senator Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) said he worries about the economic impact mandatory E-Verify would have on Iowa.

“American Farm Bureau is concerned about the bill before us,” he said.

Iowa’s reliance on agriculture makes it vulnerable to such legislation. With fewer Americans choosing to work on farms, he said the ag industry relies on workers from other countries.

“In Iowa we rely on immigrants in the meat packing industry,” Bolkcom said. “According to work force development, 31,990 people work in the meat packing industry. Many, many of those folks are immigrants. So when I think about what the impact of what this bill is going to be on those 32,000 folks who pack animals in this state, I wonder what it’s going to look like under Sen. Garrett’s world. Are we going to be able to pack an animal in this state going forward, Sen. Garrett, with your bill?”

Garrett said the federal government has pre-emption laws. Under federal law, immigration is a federal issue and it pre-empts states from enforcing immigration law. States are allowed, however, to punish by way of licensing.

If a business violates the law, Garrett said, they’ll lose their license. There’s a process to go through in order to get it back and then there’s a three-year probationary period. Another violation would result in losing the license.

The 0.16 percent figure that was thrown out again and again during floor debate is a number that Garrett expects to improve as the system becomes better. He also said plenty of meat packing plants are already using E-Verify voluntarily.

“You’d think from the discussion here they’d stay as far away as they could,” Garrett said. “(You’d think) it could put them all out of business or whatever.”

Closing comments from Garrett started by differentiating between legal and illegal immigrants.

“We don’t have a problem with legal immigrants,” he said. “This bill has nothing to do with legal immigrants, only illegal immigrants.”

Garrett said he doesn’t make a habit of passing legislation based on polls, but pointed out a poll last fall showed 74 percent of Iowans want mandatory E-Verify.

“I was kind of blown away by that,” Garrett said. “That’s tremendous. You don’t get 74 percent on anything.”

He said that’s an understandable number when the facts are considered.

“The present system is very unfair to both legal workers and law-abiding businesses that want to comply with the law,” he said. “If you’re looking for a job, do you want to have to compete with somebody who will work for a fraction of what your wage would be? We hear a lot about a living wage and all that, well, let’s do something about that. Let’s help the people that we’re supposed to be representing. Let’s help the citizens of Iowa who want to obey the law and go out and make a living.”

Democrats who supported the bill include Tony Bisignano, Bill Dotzler, Eric Giddens and Rich Taylor.

Jacob Hall

Author: Jacob Hall