RI lawmakers approve immigration checks on workers
By Kelsey Abbruzzese
The Associated Press, May 12, 2009
Providence (AP) — A bill requiring private companies to use the federal E-Verify database to check the immigration status of new hires was narrowly approved by state lawmakers Tuesday.
House legislators voted 37-33 to approve the legislation filed by Rep. Jon Brien, D-Woonsocket, who said the bill addresses a jobs issue. It now heads to the Senate, where it stalled last year.
But, workplace and immigration advocates said the bill would implement a flawed system, put financial pressure on small businesses and discriminate against minority candidates.
'In no uncertain terms, the purpose of the legislation is to ensure we have a legal work force on a going-forward basis,' Brien said. 'There's 10.5 percent unemployment in the state of Rhode Island. We want to ensure any and all jobs in the state are going to those that are work-eligible.'
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 12 states require some form of E-Verify. Gov. Don Carcieri signed an executive order in March 2008 that forces the state to verify the immigration status of new government workers, as well as employees of any company that does business with the state. When he signed the order, the governor said studies estimated 20,000 to 40,000 illegal immigrants were in Rhode Island and he blamed them for straining state services.
The order also requires state police and prison officials to identify immigration violators in state custody and report them to federal authorities for possible deportation.
Rep. Joseph Trillo, R-Warwick, urged lawmakers during a debate to approve the bill. Trillo is considering running for governor next year.
'We can't afford to give away the jobs,' he said. 'I don't want to hear the business argument.'
Jenny Rosario, who resigned from the governor's Commission on Hispanic Affairs in protest of the order, said the legislation plays into anti-immigration sentiment and would burden companies with the cost of implementing the system.
'How can they expect the small businesses to get involved in an investment like that if the economy's so bad in Rhode Island? I really believe that they have an ulterior motive.' Rosario said. 'I hope the Legislature looks at the facts rather than emotions.'
Rachel Miller, director of Rhode Island Jobs with Justice, said errors create much of the cost of the program the database itself is free since current employees have to spend time resolving non-confirmation for certain new hires, with a greater burden for companies with small human resources departments.
Miller cited statistics from the Social Security Administration that as many as 3.6 million workers could be misidentified through E-Verify.
Under Brien's bill, the state Department of Labor and Training would refer noncompliance cases to federal immigration authorities to determine penalties. The measure includes all Rhode Island employers with three or more workers.
Mandating E-Verify for every employer is a source of concern for the business community. Bethany Costello, spokeswoman for the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, said the error rate and federal criteria for the database make it more complicated than proponents suggest.
'We don't want to put barriers on hiring, especially in this current economic climate,' Costello said. 'We don't want to make it more difficult for businesses to grow in Rhode Island.'