PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island businesses would stand on the front lines of efforts to crack down on illegal immigration under a legislative proposal to require employers to check the immigration status of every job applicant.
The measure is one of several proposals dealing with illegal immigration scheduled to go to a state Senate hearing Tuesday.
The bill would require businesses with at least three employees to verify the legal residency status of all new hires through the federal E-Verify system. The online database allows employers to check whether an applicant is a citizen or otherwise allowed to work in the U.S.
Under former Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri, the state used E-Verify to check the employment status of applicants for jobs with the state and its contractors. But Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, abolished that practice when he took office in January.
More than 2,500 Rhode Island businesses already use E-Verify.
Supporters say mandating the use of the free federal database will discourage companies from hiring illegal workers.
To help businesses make the transition, the requirement would be gradually phased in, with larger corporations starting to use E-Verify first.
“It’s not unreasonable,” said state Sen. Marc Cote, D-Woonsocket, one of several sponsors of the legislation. “We have people looking for work, and we have some employers who are taking advantage of people who can’t legally work here.”
Arizona and Mississippi have mandated E-Verify for most businesses. Other states require E-Verify for government and contractor hiring.
Critics say Rhode Island is a long way from the border and that lawmakers have more pressing problems to address.
“This is only for political games,” said Juan Garcia of the group Immigrants in Action. “Rhode Island doesn’t need this. They see another state do it and they want to do it here.”
Garcia said he worries that some legal workers could be denied jobs if businesses don’t use the E-Verify system correctly.
Lawmakers have introduced several other bills addressing illegal immigration this year. One would require the state and its contractors to use E-Verify when hiring, direct state troopers to assist in federal immigration enforcement, and instruct state and local police to check the status of anyone taken into custody.
Terry Gorman, director of the group Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement, supports most of the bills. But he worries that opposition from Chafee and the General Assembly’s Democratic leaders might spell their doom this year.
“I’d like to see facets of an Arizona-style bill here in Rhode Island,” Gorman said, referring to that state’s new law addressing illegal immigration. “The public supports it. When are the elected officials going to listen?”
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