Senate File 243 drew interest on Wednesday. The bill would make E-Verify mandatory in Iowa.
“What it does is it enables employers to determine whether the people they are hiring are in the country legally and whether they can legally be hired,” said Republican Sen. Julian Garrett. “It’s a violation of federal law to hire people who are not here legally.”
Other states have passed laws to make E-Verify mandatory, but there isn’t a federal law making it mandatory. And it’s unlikely to become mandatory with the current make-up of the federal government.
Anyone who hires someone who is in the country illegally will be subject to court action and a court order that will take away any business license an employer may have.
“That’s kind of a funny way to do it you might think, but the reason is federal immigration law pre-empts state action in the area of immigration,” Garrett said. “Except in cases of licenses and similar type of certificates. So that’s why the penalty here is revocation of any license you might have or permit to do business in the state.”
Democrat Sen. Rob Hogg said there’s plenty of interest in the topic, but he was hesitant to support the measure.
“Iowa shouldn’t be involved in immigration enforcement,” Hogg said. “I wonder why the federal government isn’t working on this issue. Republicans had a chance where they controlled both Houses of Congress and presidency and didn’t do anything on the issue. So I am a little leery of the concept of getting the state into this.”
Republican Sen. Jason Schultz said he has little hope for the federal government on finding solutions.
“It seems they are inept, they are incoherent and irrelevant,” Schultz said. “I’m kind of done with the federal government. I think it’s up to the states to protect ourselves.”
Dave Stitz, vice president of a construction company in Iowa, said they have used E-Verify voluntarily for 12 years. The company started using it because it deals with government contracts and those contracts require the use of E-Verify.
“We just adopted that and use it across the board for all new hires whether it’s a government contract or not,” Stitz said. “It’s very simple to use. It takes us probably a minute and a half to go through the phrocess online and all it requires is that you have your required new-hire paperwork filled out beforehand.”
Senator Hogg asked Stitz if his company encounters problems with false flaggings.
“We have not,” Stitz said. “Once in a while there’s been a delay because they want to make sure they’re giving us the right answer.”
Stitz said the immigration issue needs to be addressed due to the worker shortage in Iowa.
“We can’t find workers,” he said. “If I see a foreigner or whatever you want to call their status, we look for non-Iowa people harder than we do Iowa because their work ethic seems to be better. We would gladly hire whatever you want to call them — non-U.S. citizens. We can’t find them. They should be taxpaying citizens like all of us, so let’s just get them in the mix and make them legal.”
Kelly Meyers of the Iowa County Attorneys Association said the group has no position on the bill but is concerned with how it will be enforced.
“All but two county attorney offices don’t have investigators,” she said. “Only the largest ones do. We would not have an investigatory arm to gather evidence on whether there is a violation or not.”
While the bill is modeled after other states, Meyers said she wasn’t sure how county attorney offices in Arizona compare to officers in Iowa regarding investigators.
“Law enforcement investigates criminal matters,” Meyers said. “We see this as a regulatory administrative matter. I don’t want to throw any other agency under the bus, but there are state agencies that do inspections. Those agencies who do food inspections while in a restaurant could check status or check to make sure they’re doing E-Verify.”
Sandra Conlin with the Associated Builders & Contractors of Iowa said the group is undecided by leans supportive of the concept. Their concerns revolve around good-faith efforts by employers and language in the bill about entrapment.
Sen. Hogg said he has seen reports that the error rate nationally is over one percent and nearly at two percent.
John Stineman of the Iowa Chamber Alliance said his group can’t support the bill.
“In this form the Chamber Alliance can’t support this bill,” Stineman said. “One of the major components of federal immigration reform is the reworking of the E-Verify system because of its inaccuracies.”
Stineman said audits from 2015 and 2016 showed the error instance can be as high as 54%. That number was much higher than the one or two percent figure given by Hogg.
“We don’t want to be bound to use a system that’s wildly inaccurate,” Stineman said.
Garrett took exception with the 54 percent rate.
“That is just astounding,” he said. “The research I’ve done, the error rate is minuscule. Sen. Hogg cited stats and that’s even high in a sense. I have never ever seen anything approaching 54 percent error rate. I really would like to see that.”
Concern spilled over into the possibility of an increase in false documentation. It would also add a burden to many of the state’s employers, according to Hogg and Stineman.
Nicole Crain of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry expressed concern over the burden it would put on small businesses.
Ben Hammes of Master Builders of Iowa asked if general contractors who hire subcontractors will be held responsible for those employees. Some conversation ensued and confusion was expressed. That conversation will likely take place in committee.
Tom Chapman of the Iowa Catholic Conference shared concerns about churches with small staffs that do not have Human Resources employees. He also wanted some provisions for good-faith efforts by employees as well as employers. And if someone fails E-Verify, he said he would hope they would be notified.
Sen. Schultz said he was going to sign the bill.
“This is a result of a broken federal government,” he said. “That’s pretty much of no use to the entire country.”
He said his criticism wasn’t aimed at President Donald Trump, calling Trump a breath of fresh air.
“He’s not included in this,” Schultz said. “But the federal judiciary, federal Congress, bureaucracy, lobbyists, they’re just ineffective for the good of America. If the state has to do something to protect Iowa from their broken system, I would do this.”
Sen. Hogg called for a resolution to U.S. Senators Joni Ernst and Charles Grassley encourging them to fix it. He called for an interim committee as well.
“Trying to put a bill like this through this year is not a good idea,” he said.
Sen. Garrett finished the subcommittee by saying the bill is intended to help law-abiding employers and Iowans.
“It’s only fair to law-abiding citizens, whether they’re employees or employers, to have their elected officials and their government back them up,” he said. “Take away the unfair competition that comes in from people who are here illegally and work at substandard wages. If you’re an employer who is obeying the law and maybe even using E-Verify, it’s very unfair to you to have to compete with the guy down the street who is cutting cost by violating federal laws when they hire people who are here illegally.
“I’ve always felt like this bill and what we’re trying to do helps both the law-abiding employer and the law-abiding employee. Right now they’re being unfairly taken advantage of and we all just look the other way.”