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Another Fight for E-Verify on the Horizon

Tuesday, February 05, 2013


Photo: longislandwins/flikr. The debate over the controversial E-Verify program might soon make its way back to the Rhode Island General Assembly.

The debate over E-Verify in Rhode Island simply will not go away.

Two years after Governor Lincoln Chafee shut down Rhode Island’s participation in the federal program that lets businesses check that their employees are indeed legally allowed to work in the United States, and after multiple failed attempts to reverse that decision in the General Assembly, five State Representatives are once again moving forward with a plan to mandate compliance.

Representative Peter Palumbo, a democrat from Cranston, introduced legislation this week that would establish an E-Verify compliance chapter in state law and require employers in the state to participate in the controversial program meant to deter undocumented immigrants from finding work.

“U.S. law requires companies to employ only individuals who may legally work in the country,” Palumbo said. “Ensuring that Rhode Island employers employ persons eligible to work in the state is an issue of statewide concern.”

A Competitive Disadvantage?

Palumbo said that companies that violate federal employment laws by hiring employees who are not eligible to work in the U.S. put companies that follow the rules at a disadvantage.

In addition, he said, refusing to enforce federal law encourages more illegal immigrants to come to the country.

“I believe we need to preserve the dream of America as a land with open arms for all legal immigrants who wish to come here for a better life for themselves and their families,” Palumbo said. “But the only way to do that is to stem the tide of illegal immigration and target those who are abetting that illegal action.”

Palumbo’s bill would require all companies with 200 or more employees to apply to participate in E-Verify by the first day of next year. Companies with between 50-200 employees would have to comply by July 1, 2014 and companies with less than 50 employees would have to be on board by the first day of 2015.

The burden of enforcement would fall to the Department of Labor of Training which, under the law, would provide a list of employers who fail to comply to the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

If passed, the bill would also force employers to immediately terminate the employment of anyone found to be working in the country illegally.

An Issue of Fairness?

“E-Verify is about jobs, but jobs are not the only issue here,” Palumbo said. “Illegal immigration is a significant factor in three major budget issues faced by our state and others – education, health care and criminal justice. This is an issue of fairness, making sure that the many hard-working, taxpaying legal workers in our state are not footing the bill for those who are here working illegally.”

“There is simply no effective way to protect our citizens and stop the flow of illegal immigrants to our state without enforcing the laws that already exist and stopping those who harbor or hire illegal workers,” he said. “E-Verify is an easy and effective means to do that.”

Stiff Resistance

Palumbo’s legislation faces stiff opposition from opponents who feel the system either unfairly punishes illegal immigrants or places too many restrictions on businesses in the state.

One such opponent is Representative Grace Diaz, a democrat from Providence who has pitched a bit of a compromise on the matter for the past three years.

“What my legislation does is grant the possibility of using E-Verify voluntarily so if a company or whatever wants to do that, we have it,” Diaz said recently. “But it does not make it mandatory so if you have a company and you feel like you want to do it, go ahead, do it. But when you impose that [and make it mandatory], it creates a burden over some companies or organizations or businesses.”

Will It Reach The Floor?

At least one of the co-sponsors of Palumbo’s bill questions if the topic will even be addressed at the General Assembly level.

“To say this kindly, the only resistance we’ve had using an E-Verify system is Speaker Fox and Governor Chafee,” Rep. Doreen Costa said recently. “It’s always up to Speaker Fox what bills come to the House floor, he chooses not to let that bill out even though there’s much, much testimony in favor of it in the committee hearings.”

Costa says she supports the program because it would remove the possibility of “paying people under the table” and might help the state’s unemployment rate if positions went to employees who are legally able to take potentially available jobs.

Palumbo’s bill has been referred to the House Committee on Labor.


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