A bill that would create greater fairness amongst Tennessee employers as to the required use of the E-verify system was killed by five Republicans in the House Banking and Consumer Affairs Subcommittee, even as thousands of illegal immigrants surge the southern border.
HB 0801, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris), would require employers in the state with six or more employees to utilize the federal government’s E-verify system in hiring future employees. Griffey’s bill lowered the threshold from the current law, which requires e-verification for employers with 50 or more employees.
Griffey requested a roll call vote on his proposed legislation, which resulted in Republican Representatives Clark Boyd (R-Lebanon), Rush Bricken (R-Tullahoma), Kirk Haston (R-Lobelville) and Kevin Vaughn (R-Collierville) voting no along with Democrat Representatives Karen Camper (D-Memphis) and Jason Powell (D-Nashville). Republican Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) was recorded as present and not voting.
In the absence of Chairman Dennis Powers (R-Jacksboro), Vaughn assumed the position and Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) was also absent.
Griffey recognized that there is opposition to his proposal, the argument being that it is going to cost employers additional time, money and resources to comply.
E-verify, Griffey pointed out, can be used for free by going directly to the federal website. While it can be cumbersome, Griffey admitted, when he did it, it only took him three to four hours to go through the set-up process, which is a one-time event.
E-verify confirms the identity and employment eligibility of employees by electronically matching information provided on the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 completed by the employee with Social Security and Department of Homeland Security records.
Anyone smart enough to own a business, Griffey contended, could certainly get set up with the E-verify system.
Alternatively, a third-party vendor could do the work for the employer, said Griffey, at a cost of about $150 per year or around $3 per employee.
Griffey also pointed out that employers already have to maintain all the records and documentation related to the completion of the I-9 Form.
The proposed legislation would have the added benefit of protecting employers, Griffey said, through a safe harbor provision that gives the presumption that the employer has not engaged in any illegal conduct if they use E-verify.
Griffey said the expanded use of E-verify would be more fair to employers who comply with E-verify relative to those who don’t comply and, instead, turn a blind eye in hiring illegals.
It would be “a huge deterrent,” said Griffey, to illegals who try to work under the radar.
FAIR – the Federation for American Immigration Reform – agrees with Griffey.
FAIR includes strong employer penalties as its number four of their “7 Principles of True Comprehensive Immigration Reform.”
In fact, FAIR says that employers hiring these workers “are the magnet that attracts illegal entry into the U.S.”
FAIR goes even further in their assessment of the often ignored negative impact employers contribute when hiring illegals.
“These employers are complicit in the illegal alien cartel activity of smuggling, trafficking, harboring, and employing and must be punished.”
FAIR recommends harsh punishment for offenders.
“We must reform the current system by enforcing employer sanctions and fully punishing employers who break the laws of this country. These punishments will be fines, jailing for repeat offenders, and loss of corporate charters.”
In concluding the presentation of his bill, Griffey said, “I think it’s time we protect Tennessee workers, people who are here legally, people who have gone through the process to get verified, so that everybody is on the same playing field.”
Boyd was the first to speak, saying that he thought that applying E-verify to businesses with just 7 or 8 employees put too much of a burden on small businesses. He said he would support the legislation at a level of 25 or 30 employees, as he did with Griffey’s previous effort in 2019.
Powell objected to the measure in light of the pandemic and that immigration is a federal issue that needs to be resolved through – what is often deceptively termed – “comprehensive immigration reform.”
Vaughn felt that the legislation takes out a frustration with the federal immigration policy and enforcement and transfers it to the backs of small businesses. Vaughn said it was basically deputizing small businesses as an immigration enforcement arm, despite the fact that employers are already required to do a process, just not one utilizing E-verify.
Lynn pointed out that with illegal immigration it is not doctors and lawyers who are breaking into the country to work here, but rather very poor and unskilled people. As such, Lynn expressed empathy for the poor in this country who are hurt the most by illegal immigration by having to compete for the jobs.
As a company comptroller, Lynn said she has sympathy for employers who would just have one more thing to do added to their already busy day by having to use the E-verify system. Lynn said that it is handled at her business by a third-party payroll company, for which they are paid “handsomely.”
Things got a little sticky when Camper expressed her displeasure at an earlier comment by Griffey in which he alluded to the newscasts that show the “parades of thousands that are going to flood the United States” that he thinks is due to “the Democrat President Biden’s immigration policy.”
Even The New York Times referred to the “surge of immigration from Central Americans” that had border agents encountering a migrant at the border about 78,000 times in January, which is “more than double the rate at the same time a year ago and higher than in any January in a decade.”
Camper thought it was crazy that Biden has been in office just 50 days, but “it’s his fault.” She encouraged a bipartisan effort to come up with a solution to the immigration problem and for her and Griffey to travel to Washington, D.C. together to work on it.
Camper disagreed with Griffey’s point that this would help the people at the very bottom of the wage scale who have done all the right things and said that it would hurt small businesses.
Bricken said he appreciates the general approach with Griffey’s bill, but dropping the threshold down to six employees gave him “heartburn. He asked if, before the up or down vote, Griffey would consider sending the bill to summer study so that it could stay alive.
Griffey was resolute in saying that this being the second year he carried the legislation, summer study would not be of benefit.
“We’re either going to do this or not,” concluded Griffey.
With the resulting 0 Ayes, 6 Noes and 1 Present and not voting, the bill ended up becoming a matter of “or not.”
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.