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State penalties proposed for Iowa firms hiring undocumented workers

DES MOINES — Seventeen Republicans in the Iowa Senate are co-sponsoring a bill that would force every Iowa business to use the federal E-Verify system to ensure every person they hire is a citizen or legal U.S. resident. Senator Julian Garrett, a Republican from Indianola, has tried since 2012 to get this bill passed in the Iowa legislature.

“We ought to be I would think more concerned about the welfare of our citizens than people who are not citizens and who are not here legally,” Garrett said Monday.

Garrett, who convened an online subcommittee hearing on the legislation, said the immigration plan President Biden has proposed makes this kind of state-level action more important.

“If we do nothing, we’re probably very likely going to see an influx of new people coming in who are not here legally,” Garrett said, “and you know we can be overwhelmed — our institutions, our medical care and education and our welfare system.”

Brad Hartkopf, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, said identity fraud is an issue in the E-Verify system, so it isn’t a fool proof way for businesses to discover if a potential employee is in the country illegally.

“The penalties are very concerning to us, the second being a revocation of all business licenses,” Hartkoff said during the hearing. “…We believe that’s pretty draconian.”

Dustin Miller, a lobbyist for auto dealers and other business interests, raised concerns about a portion of the bill calling for state investigation of all citizen complaints that a business has hired an undocumented worker.

“That can really be used as a sword against competitors,” Miller said.

Erica Johnson of the American Friends Service Committee said her group just helped a woman who was inaccurately flagged by the E-Verify system as an undocumented immigrant.

“Rather than actually working to push federal leaders to reform our immigration system in a way that benefits our economy and treats immigrants and refugee workers with the dignity and respect that they deserve, ” she said, “it’s a divisive, anti-immigrant proposal that will end up harming minority communities in Iowa.”

Senator Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig, said the bill levels the playing field for businesses doing the right thing.

“We have folks who are flouting the law and getting away with a competitive advantage they should not have,” Schultz said.

The bill is eligible for debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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