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State Government News

Bill To Penalize Employers Who Hire Undocumented Immigrants Advances In Iowa Senate

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John Pemble
/
IPR file
Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, sponsored a bill to penalize Iowa businesses that knowingly hire undocumented workers.

Republicans on an Iowa Senate panel advanced a bill Monday that would allow the state to suspend or revoke business licenses from employers who knowingly hire people who aren't eligible to work in the United States.

Bill sponsor Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, said this legislation would effectively require all businesses in Iowa to use the federal E-Verify program to check the immigration status of new hires.

Knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants is already a federal crime, but this bill would give the state some power to enforce that.

“I have always felt that allowing people to hire people in the country illegally in violation of federal law is unfair to almost everybody else,” Garrett said. “It’s unfair to other businesses who obey the law and have to compete with their competitors who are cutting their costs by hiring people who will work for substandard wages.”

The Iowa Senate passed a similar bill in 2019, but the House of Representatives did not take it up.

This version says a county attorney, local law enforcement officer, of member of the public can file a complaint about an employer with Iowa Workforce Development. That agency can bring an action in court, and if the employer is found to have knowingly employed undocumented immigrants, the employer must fire them and is then put on a three-year probationary period. Business licenses could also be suspended if the employer doesn’t take action quickly.

If there’s another violation during the probationary period, the state can permanently revoke business licenses.

Employers that use the E-Verify program are considered to be in “good-faith compliance” with the law. Sixteen other GOP state senators signed on to this bill as co-sponsors.

At a Senate subcommittee hearing Monday, all lobbyists and members of the public present spoke in opposition to the bill.

“The E-Verify system has a lot of challenges,” said Dustin Miller of the Iowa Chamber Alliance. “It is flawed enough that it’s really worrisome that the mandate on business could lead to penalties for employers.”

Various business groups stated they do not want use of the E-Verify program to be required.

Erica Johnson with the American Friends Service Committee said her organization recently helped someone who was wrongly flagged by the E-Verify system as ineligible to work.

“It is going to cause problems for people. It is going to put additional barriers in front of Iowa workers when we’re already struggling from a global pandemic that’s been wreaking havoc on our economy at all levels,” Johnson said. “It’s another anti-immigrant bill that doesn’t actually solve any problems.”

Garrett and Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, voted to advance the bill to the full Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Kevin Kinney, D-Oxford, did not vote to advance the legislation.