DES MOINES -- Every Iowa employer would be required to check a federal system to determine whether job applicants are legal residents of the country and eligible to work here.
That is the main requirement in a state-level immigration bill that advanced Tuesday at the Iowa Capitol.
Supporters say mandating that employers use the federal E-Verify system to check the eligibility of all job applicants creates fairness by discouraging businesses from hiring individuals living in the country illegally, often paying them substandard wages.
Opponents express concern that the federal system could mistakenly flag individuals who are eligible to work in the U.S., causing lost wages. It also could have a detrimental impact on Iowa farmers and the state’s agricultural economy, given the abundance of immigrant farm labor, said Joe Bolkcom, a Democratic state senator from Iowa City.
Just 16 out of 1,000 E-Verify checks start with an erroneous flag on an individual who eventually is found to be eligible to work, according to federal data provided on the program’s website.
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“I know people are uneasy about this, and you should be. Because in Iowa we rely on immigrants,” Bolkcom said during debate on the proposal.
Many businesses already use the federal E-Verify system and it results in very few false flags, argued Julian Garrett, a Republican state senator from Indianola who presented the proposal. And he said the bill would not have any adverse impact on a legal U.S. resident working here.
“This bill has nothing to do with legal immigrants, only illegal immigrants,” Garrett said. “The present system is very unfair to both legal workers, legal employees, and law-abiding businesses that want to comply with the law.”
The proposal, Senate File 516, passed the Iowa Senate on a 33-14 vote. Four Democrats -- Tony Bisignano of Des Moines, Bill Dotzler of Waterloo, Eric Giddens of Cedar Falls and Rich Taylor of Mount Pleasant -- joined Republicans in supporting the bill. One Republican, Mark Lofgren of Muscatine, joined Democrats in opposing it.
The proposal now heads to the Iowa House, where it faces an uncertain future. If it is not approved by a committee there by the end of this week, it becomes ineligible for the rest of this year’s legislative session.