Bill would force companies to verify workers' immigration status

Chris Rizo Mar. 10, 2009, 3:19am

Sal Esquivel (R-Ore.)

Drew Edmondson (D-Okla.)

SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline)-Oregon businesses should be required to verify workers' immigration status or risk prosecution by the state attorney general's office if they knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, a state lawmaker has proposed.

State Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, told Legal Newsline that employers should be required to use the federal worker verification system, which currently is completely voluntary. He wants to make employers responsible for determining whether their workers are legal.

"We have 170,000 people who are out of work in this state and we have 140,000 people who are in the state illegally," Esquivel told Legal Newsline. "I wish those people would go home and allow our people to go to work. They should not be taking our jobs away from Oregonians."

The so-called E-Verify system allows companies to check employee's identifying information against Social Security and Homeland Security databases to determine via the Internet if an applicant is eligible to work in the United States.

Esquivel said that is just what every employer ought to be doing in the Beaver State.

"It's going to hurt businesses that knowingly hire illegal people; it's not going to hurt legitimate businesses," he said in an interview from his state Capitol office.

His proposal, outlined in House Bill 3215, is modeled after legislation passed last year by Arizona state lawmakers and signed by then-Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, who now serves as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security.

The Arizona law, which has been upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, requires all public and private employers to verify their workers' legal presence in the United States.

Critics, including many business groups, however, say forcing companies to use E-Verify would be an administrative burden.

Esquivel said forcing businesses to perform a few keystrokes is not burden. He also was quick to say his proposal is not directed at any one group of people, just at those who are not in the country legally.

"I am not against any specific group of people; I am just against people being in my country illegally," Esquivel said.

As for people who would say his proposal is racist, Esquivel noted that he is half Mexican. He said his father immigrated legally to the United States under the Bracero Program in the 1940s, which sought to bring agricultural laborers to the nation's fields.

Acknowledging the controversial nature of his proposal, Esquivel said the prospects for his bill are dim, particularly given that the Oregon Legislature is led by strong Democratic majorities.

"I was told today that the bill is DOA even before it hits the (House) Speaker's desk," Esquivel said. "I bet it won't even get a (committee) hearing."

A similar proposal enacted in Oklahoma has been tied up in federal court after being signed into law.

Democratic Attorney General Drew Edmondson has asked the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to allow him to enforce a state law that requires employers to verify the immigration status of their employees, contractors and subcontractors.

At trial, U.S. District Chief Judge Robin Cauthron of the Western District of Oklahoma ruled that the law's employer provisions are unconstitutional because they subject employers to penalties for not using = a purely voluntary program, E-Verify.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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