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Rep. Chris Herrod on Wednesday revealed the first Republican-sponsored bill in the Utah Legislature designed to penalize businesses for hiring workers who are in the country illegally while also trying to require more employers in Utah to participate in the federal E-Verify program.
Herrod said he initially intended to combine his proposal with Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's enforcement-only bill, but his revisions of the proposed "Employment of Unauthorized Aliens Act" were still ongoing through last week as he tried to strip out items he thought might be ruled unconstitutional.
But he said he still thought his measure, which had not been numbered as of Wednesday night, goes hand-in-hand with Sandstrom's bill.
"One of the things that Representative Sandstrom has been attacked for has been not going after the employer," Herrod said. "It was always our intention to have an employer sanction part."
The bill would require businesses with five or more employees to register withE-Verify the federal government's program that tracks the legal status of workers. Utah businesses with 15 or more employees are currently required to register withE-Verify though there are no penalties in place if an employer doesn't register. Herrod said by expanding the pool of participants, the program will turn up more violators and serve as a deterrent to more illegal immigration.
Enforcement would be conducted largely by the attorney general's office or the county attorney's office where the alleged violation took place though Herrod's bill would allow local law enforcement to assist in the investigation.
He said if an employer was found to have undocumented workers, the company would have three days to fire them, then would be required to sign an affidavit swearing not to repeat the practice. A second offense would result in the employer losing its business license.
"If companies want to play around with it and take a chance and get caught once and then risk it again a second time and lose their business license, I think that's a pretty serious consequence," Herrod said, adding that he thinks the bill is one that could attract support from advocates on both sides of the immigration debate.
But Marty Carpenter, spokesman for the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, said the penalties are harsh when tied to E-Verify a system he said still is somewhat unreliable.
He also said a business that is small and starting up with five employees could be facing "another obstacle" with the bill's provisions and that employers shouldn't be acting as immigration enforcement agents.
"We're leery about it being an increased burden on business. We think it puts the onus on business when it's not a function of business to do this," Carpenter said. "We aren't against weeding those out that aren't playing by the rules, but once we have a reformed, accurate system in place."
Carpenter also said there would be unintended consequences from Herrod's bill. He said if an employer with 15 employees has one that is undocumented, "what happens to the other 14 employees?" He said not operating for 10 days especially a small business could be "crippling."
But Cherilyn Eagar, a member of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, praised the bill for aiming squarely at the heart of the problem.
"Utah is clearly sending a message we mean business," she said. "What it does is it removes the incentive for them to come and that's a great approach."
The bill also would attempt to sanction through the budget process school districts and government entities that knowingly hired undocumented workers.
"Tolerating illegal immigration is costing the state a tremendous amount of money," he said. "Schools are suffering because we're not enforcing the laws."