So next week, the House Judiciary committee will be voting on House File 2156, “a bill relating to the employment of unauthorized aliens and providing penalties.” I am actually one of 30+ co-sponsors on the bill, because this bill raises some interesting questions and deserves a fair hearing– but after discussing the bill with many people in Clinton and participating in today’s subcommittee on the bill, I have some serious concerns as to whether it’s the right bill for Iowa, right now.
It’s a long bill, but the gist of it is that Iowa employers of one or more persons would be required to run an employee’s info (name/birthdate/ss#/etc) through the federal E-verify program (administered by Homeland Security and the SSI Administration) in order to ensure the employee is legal to work in the US. If an employer doesn’t do this, and gets caught employing an illegal worker, bad things happen — a 3 year probation the first time, with quarterly reports and the possibility of temporarily suspended business licenses; for a 2nd offense, the employer permanently loses all business licenses — i.e., that business no longer exists.
To help catch employers who are employing illegals, the bill sets up a complaint process wherein anyone can submit a complaint to the attorney general or county attorney, and an investigation must be carried out on each complaint (and the county sheriff or other local law enforcement agencies must assist with the investigation if requested to do so). If the complaint if founded, US immigration and customs enforcement (ICE)must be notified re. the illegal alien (so ICE can take custody, I suppose) and the employer must go through a district court hearing to determine if s/he knowingly employed an illegal alien
Various problems — the E-Verify system isn’t always accurate, especially w/unusual (i.e., foreign) last names, or if there’s been a name change due to marriage/divorce, or if the employee is here under atypical (albeit legal) circumstances (e.g., asylum). An employee can appeal an incorrect disqualification, but it’s a long process, and in the meantime, he or she has obviously lost a job. And some states that have passed these types of laws have suffered unanticipated consequences — losses in revenue (because if illegal workers aren’t working, they can’t buy things) and increases in government welfare to children of illegal workers (because if they aren’t working….), and a serious shortage of employees willing to do hard, dirty, menial jobs for minimum wages. Which employers aren’t happy about, and which costs them money, and then commercial income taxes decrease….
Then there’s the cost (in time and money) of investigating all those complaints, and prosecuting the employers caught breaking the rules. Local prosecutors and law enforcement would be doing most of this, so this bill does appear to impose an unfunded mandate on local government — possibly a large unfunded mandate, depending on the county. As the State is still trying to decide how much we’re going to cut commercial property taxes (and thus how much we’re going to cut cities’ and counties’ operating budgets), I can’t imagine that any of the local players obligated under this bill are going to be particularly happy to hear that they are going to have to take on new duties and responsibilities.
Why would this law be good for Iowa? The argument is that (1) it will force employers to obey the law, which currently at least some probably aren’t, and (2) it levels the playing field, since Iowa citizens won’t have to compete for jobs w/illegal workers willing to accept artificially low wages. And those are legitimate concerns, and this bill would help address them — but there are costs, and we need to be realistic about those costs.
Obviously, the Iowa General Assembly can decide that immigration enforcement should be a priority, and we can require employers and local governments to help finance and carry out this initiative, whether they want to or not. Or we can decide to concentrate our energy and financial resources on education reform, or on redesigning Iowa’s mental health system, or on resolving that whole commercial property tax impasse. Or maybe we can do all of those things this session. What do you think?