Should IA enforce federal E-Verify requirement?

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?

About Representative Mary Wolfe

Part time attorney; full time State Representative for Iowa House District 98 (East Clinton County)
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4 Responses to Should IA enforce federal E-Verify requirement?

  1. sally ann says:

    Yeah, I don’t know about this. It seems to me that we still don’t know what we want from immigration, and that it’s much more an economic problem than it is a security problem. And we’re mixing up the two, and asking employers to do DHS duty. It strikes me as a bad, ad-hoccy idea that will be quickly entrenched and difficult to fix or undo.

    First of all, if someone’s running a black-market operation, they don’t care anyway. You can shut them down all you want and they’ll just pop back up again with a new business. You don’t need a license for all sorts of businesses. So unless you’re going to put people in jail for employing illegal aliens, and are willing to enforce that vigorously, you’re only catching part of the problem. How big a part I don’t know, and I bet you guys don’t know either.

    Second, the market and desperation will work to defeat you. Just as people don’t want $7/lb grapes, they don’t want $275K modest 3br houses and $15K roofs. And if people are willing to risk their lives to get into the country in the first place, y’know, they’re not so mortally terrified of a DHS cop that they won’t go looking for the work and conspiring with the employers.

    My guess is you’ll wind up mostly with expensive fraud.

    What leeway do states have in designing and implementing guest-worker programs? I know there’s federal temporary-worker legislation, but don’t know its scope.

    In the meantime, I’d say if the wage issue is what you’re after, enforce minimum wage assiduously, and/or set minimum wages for certain industries. It’s a much more direct approach and doesn’t mix economic and immigration issues, or force employers to act as police.

  2. sally ann says:

    A related question: What then do you propose to do with the thousands of illegal immigrants who show up here? And will you extend them social services, whether state or agency? I don’t know how things go currently, but I know that some years ago we did have Empowerment-funded, which is to say state-funded, agencies aiding undocumented aliens, on grounds that it would’ve been inhumane not to. OB services for pregnant women, that sort of thing.

  3. sally ann says:

    Okay. I had a quick look at a recent Migration Policy Institute review of E-Verify, and it seems to me the program is decidedly beta. MPI is an outgrowth of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: nonprofit, bipartisan, etc. (Here’s the MPI report: .) I would not support mandatory E-Verify.

    One, it encourages the growth of a black market in identity theft. E-Verify cannot tell if you’re using someone else’s info, with or without employer collaboration; their photo-matching strategy is full of holes. And that’s all the rest of us need, more aggressive identity thieves.

    Two, among the flagged submissions, the false-positive rate is alarmingly high, between 22 and 95 percent, according to reports received by MPI. That’s too high. Furthermore, the reject rates are disproportionately high among those with foreign names etc. which are subject to data-entry errors.

    Three, you’re asking the federal government to store more and more sensitive information about individuals in one spot, including photos. I’ve worked for the federal government. Some of them are nice people, but they’re not the ones I’d go to first for data security.

    Four, employers get access to employee info they wouldn’t otherwise have, which some people think might be used against employees trying to unionize or negotiate wages.

    Five, personally, I think with E-Verify all we’re waiting for now is an admission that it’s not fraudproof enough and we need to submit biometric data when we apply for jobs. You know what? No. I’ll turn to urban farming before I start handing over iris scans and fingerprints to an employer, let alone the feds. That’s too intrusive for me, and the MPI report already sounds like something out of a Robert Heinlein dystopia by the end of it. So let’s not even get behind further employer-as-immigration-cop nonsense.

    Instead, if the economic issue is the one you’re after, go with minimum-wage enforcement. As for immigration status — leave that to real cops.

  4. Nate McClintock says:

    First-off … Sally Ann is dead-on … Great Job …. I’ve lived and worked in Arizona for about 10 years and have crossed the US Mexican border hundreds of time … The long and short of it is … The Mexicans in the United State would rather be home in Mexico with their families … But they need the jobs here to send money back to their families in Mexico … and most of the people crossing now are not from Mexico but are from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and are moving through Mexico on top of Freight Trains by the Thousands and the Mexican Government can do nothing to stop it, So they hand out pamphlets showing the best way to get into the US.

    Sally Ann mentioned the guest-worker program or temporary-worker program…Something along this line of thinking. I believe has the best chance for success.

    Similar to our Unemployment System… A certain percent of each paycheck is withheld and put into an account that is redeemed when they Return back to their homes-town in Mexico.

    Trust me, We adopted a program something like this and the illegal immigration problem is over…

    Because the only place a Guest-Worker can signup for this Program is in Mexico and the only Place they can get the Bonus Isss…. You guess-it… Mexico.

So what do you think?

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