All Iowa businesses would be required to use the federal E-Verify program to check if their employees are legally eligible to work in the United States under a bill that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. The state could suspend or revoke the business license of employers that knowingly hire undocumented immigrants.
Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, said even though hiring undocumented immigrants is already prohibited by federal law, other states have taken this step in the face of inaction on immigration issues at the federal level.
He said it would penalize employers that cut costs by hiring undocumented immigrants and paying them “substandard wages.”
“If you can get cheap labor, that gives you an unfair advantage over your competitors who are law-abiding people obeying the laws,” Garrett said.
The committee voted to amend the bill. Rather than county attorneys investigating and prosecuting potential violations of this proposed law, Iowa Workforce Development would take on that duty. The amendment also makes the bill more lenient toward businesses, by saying they must make a “bona fide attempt to comply” with the law.
Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said he supports improvements to employment verification, but said this bill is “too sloppy.”
“It’s too soft on bad employers, and it’s too hard on good Iowa employers,” Hogg said. “This bill makes every Iowa employer, regardless of size, use the E-Verify system that has far too many errors.”
Hogg added it would also apply to a small business owner hiring a family member. He said immigration issues should be addressed by Congress.
“We can’t stop what’s happening at the federal level, but we can make a difference right here in Iowa in what we do to hold bad employers accountable,” said Sen. Zach Nunn, R-Altoona.
At a subcommittee meeting in February, business groups raised concerns about the E-Verify system mistakenly identifying U.S. citizens as undocumented. They also worry about the program not being available during federal government shutdowns.
The bill passed the committee on a mostly party-line vote of 11 to 4. Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, was the only Democrat who voted in favor.
It advanced to the full Senate ahead of a Friday legislative deadline for bills to be passed out of statehouse committees. A total of 26 Republican senators signed on as bill sponsors.