The Idaho Senate is considering a plan that would go after employers for hiring illegal immigrants. The plan from Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, would require employers to check that all new hires are legal workers and penalizes any business that knowingly hires illegal immigrants.
“The only course of action we as a state have is with employers, the people doing the hiring of the illegal immigrants,” Jorgenson said. The Senate State Affairs Committee approved printing Jorgenson’s proposal Friday without dissent. Jorgenson introduced a similar proposal last year that didn’t make it out of the hearing stage, but he said that State Affairs Committee leader Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, has agreed to have a hearing for the plan this session.
Employers would have to use the E-Verify system to check new workers’ legal status. That program is maintained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Jorgenson said having the plan would lead to self-deportation for some people. “When people know that we have this type of a structure in place, they leave the state (or) they don’t come,” he said. Idaho currently uses E-Verify for all state agencies and state contractors, and Gov. Butch Otter has a website encouraging businesses to voluntarily use the system. E-Verify does have critics: The American Civil Liberties Union has called the system flawed and a roadblock to employment for U.S. workers.
Employers who knowingly hire workers who don’t pass the E-Verify test would be fined $50 a day for each misclassified worker, up to $50,000. Employers’ business license would also be suspended for 15 days for a first offense, one year for a second offense, and permanently for a third offense. The attorney general and county officials would be in charge of enforcing the new requirements and employers would have court hearings before paying the fines.
Some on the Senate panel questioned the cost of the new immigration enforcement plan. Michelle Stennett, who is temporarily serving for her husband, Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, said she was worried investigations could become a wild goose chase. “It could get bogged down if somebody is disgruntled with their employer or believes something is happening that’s not,” she said. “I don’t think we’d have the resources or the ability if it isn’t nailed down who’s responsible for making these accusations.”
“Disgruntled people unfortunately, and sometimes fortunately, are a part of life,” Jorgenson told Stennett. He said the due process legal system would filter out frivolous complaints. “If someone files a complaint or tries to be an informant, we have to rely on our system.” Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, and Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, also wanted more clarification on the cost to run the new program.
Jorgenson said he is still working on determining the cost of enforcing his proposal for counties and the state. He said illegal immigrants cost the state $148 million a year, according to the anti-immigration group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Jorgenson tsaid those state costs come from education, welfare, corrections, and health care. “We have a moral obligation to provide care to anyone who comes into a hospital,” Jorgenson said. “The counties' budgets have just been eaten up by indigent health care costs.”
The other side in the immigration debate disputes the economic impact of illegal immigrants. A report from the immigrant rights group Immigration Policy Center released this month claims that comprehensive immigration reform, which would give legal status to those currently in the U.S. illegally, would increase the national economy by $1.5 trillion during the next 10 years.
The plan also includes language instructing the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) to not issue driver’s licenses to illegal aliens. “The state of Idaho hereby declares that granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens is repugnant,” the proposed legislation reads. ITD would also be required to only give the written driver’s test in English. Currently, ITD requires applicants to prove age, identity, and residence in Idaho. ITD also offers its driver’s manual in Spanish (pdf).
Jorgenson isn’t the only lawmaker proposing immigration reforms this session. Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, is working on legislation that would penalize creating or use false identification to help someone get a job.