In the run up to presenting his bill before the Senate State Affairs Committee Monday, Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden, claims he has been called a racist and said people have accused him of working for special interests. Jorgenson says both those charges are "categorically not true." Jorgenson told his fellow senators that he is pushing the anti-illegal immigration bill because he is an elected official and it is his duty to protect the state's interests.
None of his pleas to lawmakers to send his bill on the full Senate seemed to matter as committee members quickly defeated the measure after a three-hour long hearing. Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, moved to send the bill on, which was seconded by Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, but the majority of lawmakers disagreed with Pearce and Fulcher, outvoting them 7-2 to kill the measure.
Jorgenson did his best to convince his fellow senators that the measure would serve to clean up illegal immigration issues in the state. Jorgenson brought in Kris Kobach, a law professor and former aide to former United States Attorney General John Ashcroft, to help make his case. Kobach told the committee that the legislation could save the state $200 million over time as illegal immigrants "self-deport" due to stricter regulations in the hiring process. Kobach also advocated for Jorgenson's provisions on the bill which would require all private and public employers in the state to use E-Verify when hiring an employee, saying that though employers receive cheap labor by having illegal immigrants available, workers lose out on jobs because illegal immigrants take them, while taxpayers fund their use of social services and safety nets. Kobach also said the bill would aid in equality in the workforce.
"E-Verify level the playing field ... It makes everyone play on the same terms," said Kobach.
Under Jorgenson's plan, employers could have faced harsh penalties for not complying with the regulations set forth in the bill. For those employers who knowingly hire workers who aren't approved by the E-Verify system, a fine of $50 a day could be levied against the company, up to $50,000. For the first offense, companies would have also had their business license suspended for 15 days. For the second offense, a company would have lost the license for one year, and a third violation would have revoked a business license permanently. County officials, in conjunction with the state attorney general's office, would be charged with enforcement of Jorgenson's program.
Several citizens and interest groups voiced concern with the anti-illegal immigration bill, some saying that the measure would go too far and some saying it didn’t go far enough.
Brent Olmstead, representing the Idaho Business Coalition for Immigration Reform, said that the Idaho state government, because it doesn't issue passports or administer a guest-worker program, doesn't have the right or authority to deal with immigration problems or solutions. Olmstead told legislators that because Idaho, unlike Arizona, which has already enacted similar legislation, doesn't have a statewide business license, it would prove tough for enforcement officials to keep up with businesses and their various licenses.
Former Boise City Council candidate Lucas Baumbach argued that the Jorgenson legislation had too many loopholes that would allow illegal immigrants to continue receiving social services provided by the state. Baumbach told legislators that if anything, the legislation wouldn't be strict enough to deal with the problems posed by illegal immigration.
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, seemed to think the bill would be too strict for Idaho's small businesses. Under Jorgenson's plan, even parents looking to hire their own children in a family enterprise would be required to verify a child's identity through E-Verify. Davis wasn't pleased with that provision.
"I know where my son was born … I was there," said Davis. He added that he felt uncomfortable about the "big city fixes" in Jorgenson's bill that would ultimately hurt Idaho.
Before the vote, Jorgenson offered one last plea to lawmakers, saying that welfare and entitlement programs paired with lack of immigration enforcement creates a "field of dreams" for those looking to live off government money.
"If you build it, they will come," said Jorgenson in reference to the movie.
This is the second year in a row that Jorgenson has failed to push an immigration reform bill through the Senate, though his efforts got him farther down the legislative line this year. In his 2009 attempt at immigration reform, his bill was killed in its first hearing.