Iowa Senate votes to require businesses use E-Verify to avoid hiring undocumented workers

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By Stephen Gruber-Miller, Des Moines Register

Iowa businesses would be required to use the federal E-Verify system to determine whether their employees are legally in the country under a bill that passed the Iowa Senate Wednesday.

The Senate voted 30-17 Wednesday afternoon to pass Senate File 108, sending it to the Iowa House for consideration. All but one of the Republicans present voted in favor of the bill. Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, voted with every Democrat to oppose it.

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The Senate has passed a version of the bill in past years, but it has never been taken up by the Iowa House.

This year, the Senate’s vote comes as immigration is shaping up to be a major issue in the 2024 presidential race and in Congress.

The U.S. Senate earlier this month failed to pass a bill that would have created a new mechanism to shut down the border if illegal crossings reached a certain threshold. And Congressional Republicans have indicated new border measures are a top priority for them.

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Iowa lawmakers are considering several bills this year that proponents say would help deter illegal immigration but critics have described as anti-immigrant.

Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, said the border is “probably the number one issue” he hears about.

“There’s not a lot we can do here in Iowa at the state level, but this is something we can do,” he said. “And I think it will make a difference.”

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Sen. Janice Weiner, D-Iowa City, said if Iowa lawmakers are concerned about the border they should contact their federal representatives and senators.

“Ask them to pass the bipartisan law on immigration reform and the border that was agreed to in Washington,” she said. “That’s the solution. It’s a federal issue.”

What would the Iowa E-Verify bill do?

It is already illegal under federal law to knowingly hire someone who is in the country illegally.

The Iowa bill would allow a county attorney, local law enforcement official or member of the public to file a complaint with Iowa Workforce Development if they suspect a company has violated the law.

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If a company is found to have violated the law by hiring an undocumented immigrant, the company would be required to terminate the employee and would be placed on a three-year probationary period during which it would be required to file quarterly reports with the state listing every new employee hired during that period.

A second offense would cause the company’s business license to be permanently revoked.

The Iowa Secretary of State’s office would be required to maintain a database of companies found to violate the law.

Employers could defend themselves in court by arguing that they did not knowingly employ an undocumented immigrant in violation of the law.

Garrett said passing the bill would help level the playing field for businesses that already diligently check to ensure their employees are in the country legally.

“It’s very unfair to law-abiding legitimate businesses and employees to have to compete with people that are coming across the border, and you know they’re pouring across right now,” he said. “The Biden administration doesn’t seem inclined to do a thing about it.”

Business groups oppose the Iowa bill

Many of Iowa’s largest business groups are opposed to the law, including the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, Iowa Chamber Alliance, National Federation of Independent Businesses, Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, Master Builders of Iowa, Iowa Grocery Industry Association, Heavy Highway Contractors Association, and Agribusiness Association of Iowa.

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, read off a list of business groups who oppose the bill during debate.

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“Everybody opposes this,” he said. “And it’s not because they want to circumvent the law and use undocumented workers. It’s because in their professional operation, it doesn’t work.”

Bisignano said the program would also harm potential employees who are wrongly flagged.

“What about the employee?” he said. “What about the applicant who they got his middle initial wrong or a letter in his name or a number on the Social Security and it’s red flagged? And how long are they unable to be employed?”

Garrett said thousands of Iowa businesses already use the E-Verify program voluntarily. Several other states require businesses to use the program.

“Right now more than 5,000 businesses in Iowa use E-Verify,” he said. “They don’t have to. It’s not required. Why would they do that if this is such a horrible program?

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