Immigration reform legislation continues to heat up on both the state and federal fronts. In the midst of protests surrounding a new Arizona law that critics see as a license for racial profiling, a group of Democratic senators unveiled a new federal bill on April 29 that would require employers to use biometric social security cards to verify the status of new hires and hike monetary penalties for illegal hires by 300 percent.
One section of the bill, dubbed Real Enforcement with Practical Alternatives for Immigration Reform (REPAIR), calls for the issuance of fraud- and tamper-resistant social security cards that include photographs and biometric data, according to a summary of the bill prepared by the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Cards would include the cardholder’s name, birth date, social security number, and unique biometric identifier.
The immigration lawyers’ summary says no information on the cardholder would be stored on any government database. The bill also would make it unlawful for anyone or any private or government entity to use the card for any purpose other than for employment verification.
Under the bill, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would work together to verify employment authorization and issue the cards to those who are eligible. Anyone found ineligible would be able to seek a review.
The bill also would create the Biometric Enrollment Locally-stored Information and Electronic Verification of Employment (BELIEVE) System. The immigration attorneys’ summary says there would be a six-year transition period before full mandatory implementation. But some employers would be required to expedite use of BELIEVE and reverify their existing workforce. Those employers would be:
- those that DHS knows or has reason to believe have a high rate of employment of unauthorized workers;
- those related to national security; and
- those that engaged in significant violations of the law.
Also, the federal government would be required to use BELIEVE within three years of enactment, and federal contractors would be required to use it within four years.
According to the attorneys’ summary, employers knowingly employing an unauthorized worker would face enhanced civil fines of 300 percent. But employers taking employment actions based on information received from the BELIEVE system would be protected from liability. Also, the bill calls for mitigation of penalties for small employers and those acting in good faith. In addition, there are safe-harbor provisions for employers that employ unauthorized workers through a subcontractor.
The association’s summary also says the BELIEVE system would be financed through fees and fines. Fees include an employment authorization fee charged to noncitizens, a fee paid by all employers seeking to employ a noncitizen, a fee for businesses that seek precertification as employment eligibility screeners, and fees charged to U.S. citizens for replacement cards. Fines for persons or entities that fail to comply with the law also would help finance the system.
In addition to the employment aspects, the bill covers border enforcement, removal of people in the country illegally, and reforms aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of the nation’s immigration system. This federal bill comes on the heels of a new state law passed in Arizona that requires immigrants to carry their alien registration documents at all times and requires police to question people if there’s reason to suspect they are in the United States illegally.
A Gallup poll released on April 29 shows that almost eight out of 10 Americans have heard about the Arizona law, and of those, 51 percent supported it and 39 percent opposed it.
Learn more about how immigration laws affect employers in the report Mastering HR: Immigration