When the U.S. Senate failed in its second attempt to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill last month, several states decided to take action rather than continue to wait for Congress. Within days of the Senate's failed cloture vote, governors in Arizona and Tennessee signed into law immigration proposals that have serious implications for HR professionals in those states, while in Illinois the governor is still pondering whether to sign legislation forwarded to him in June. Georgia, Colorado, and Oklahoma have already enacted similar immigration laws and other states will likely follow.
- Arizona - "Because of Congress' failure to act, states like Arizona have no choice but to take strong action to discourage the further flow of illegal immigration." Thus, Governor Janet Napolitano (D) summed up her rationale for signing HB 2779 into law on July 2. The legislation establishes a framework for county and local officials to investigate complaints of unauthorized hiring or undocumented aliens, and subjects employers with either the suspension or loss of their business licenses. The new law also establishes a safe harbor from sanctions for Arizona employers who participate in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Basic Pilot Program. Also, participation in the Federal government's electronic verification program would be mandated for all Arizona employers after December 31, 2007. Currently, participation in Basic Pilot is voluntary, but more and more states are expected to make participation mandatory.
- Tennessee - On June 26, Governor Phil Bredesen (D) signed into law a similar measure (HB 729) that would subject employers who "knowingly employ, recruit or refer for a fee for employment an illegal alien" to a temporary suspension of their business license and a one-year suspension for repeat violators. Employers who comply with the requirements of the current I-9 process or who verify new hires through the DHS Basic Pilot program within 14 days of employment would also be shielded from the sanctions established by this new law.
- Illinois - Awaiting action by Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) are two bills (HB 1743 and HB 1744) passed by the Illinois Legislature that should act as a deterrent for any Illinois employer rushing to sign-up for Basic Pilot. These bills would subject employers in that state to "civil rights violations" if they take an adverse action against an employee based on feedback from the "Basic Pilot" program before the Department of Homeland Security is able "to make a determination on 99 percent of the tentative non-confirmation notices issued to employers within a three-day period." The legislation would also establish a statewide advisory council to study the effects of various Employment Eligibility Verification Programs.
SHRM expects other states to enact their own immigration reforms, now that it seems unlikely Congress will take up the issue in the near future. SHRM will continue to monitor these state activities, particularly those that compel employers to verify new hires through the Basic Pilot program.
In recent testimony before the U.S. Congress, SHRM President and CEO Susan Meisinger stated "there are major concerns that the Basic Pilot's accuracy is severely limited by the proliferation of fraudulent identity documents." SHRM will continue advocating for the adoption of a more effective and reliable federal electronic verification system that is fair for employees and employers.
To read more about SHRM's position on the need for improved Employment Verification, click HERE to access the homepage of the HR Initiative for a Legal Workforce -- a coalition of like-minded organizations chaired by SHRM to work toward improving the current employment verification process.