Patchwork of state immigration laws no substitute for poor federal policy

  • By Dave Adkisson, Kentucky Chamber President and CEO

    Immigration has been a hot topic of discussion across the nation, even before Arizona passed its controversial legislation. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 44 states enacted 319 laws and resolutions relating to immigrants and refugees in the first half of 2010. Kentucky is no different.  Currently, there are three bills related to immigration under consideration by the General Assembly.

    Senate Bill 6, modeled after the Arizona law, focuses on law enforcement’s role in identifying and detaining those who are in this country illegally. House Bill 3 would require companies doing business with the state to use the federal E-Verify system and would penalize out-of-compliance employers with civil penalties and the cancellation of contracts. House Bill 111 would suspend or deny business licenses for companies that hire illegal immigrants.

    The discussion will undoubtedly involve passionate advocates on both sides of the debate.  Some will contend that changes are needed for security and to protect jobs; others will argue that the efforts will unfairly target legal residents and will hurt business in Kentucky.  As the debate continues in Kentucky, lawmakers have chosen two different approaches to addressing the issues – through law enforcement or additional requirements on employers.

    The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce is concerned that attempts to address illegal immigration could put Kentucky employers at a significant disadvantage if they are unfairly burdened.

    Of course, Kentucky employers should do their part, and thousands of them already are by using the mandatory federal I-9 system to ensure that only legal workers are hired. The I-9 requirement is a proven process that will verify the legal status of any applicant.

    Some lawmakers and other observers point to the federal E-Verify system as another system that Kentucky employers should be required to use. While this system has been approved by Congress for voluntary use by employers, it has a number of technological challenges and shortcomings – leaving employers liable for false information and data that the system produces.  For example, if an employer were to hire an illegal immigrant who used false identification, such as a fake social security card, the employer would be held liable. Creating regulations to require employers to manage immigration enforcement would be like requiring airlines to manage and pay for homeland security efforts at airports. 

    Requiring legitimate Kentucky employers to incur substantial administrative costs while risking their reputations on a system with known faults would be unfair.  It is important for businesses, particularly those who do business in multiple states, to have a single set of federal requirements to meet instead of a patchwork of federal, state and local laws that impose inordinate financial and administrative burdens.

    If Kentucky’s lawmakers decide to move ahead with immigration reform, the Chamber urges a cautious approach.  Kentucky’s employers are already heavily burdened by government regulation. Creating a set of unique requirements that exceed those of the federal government will create undue – and unfair -- financial and administrative burdens for Kentucky’s employers, particularly small businesses.

    As the Kentucky Chamber continues to monitor and seek employer input on the immigration proposals now before the General Assembly, it is important to remember that the overwhelming majority of Kentucky businesses are not breaking the law. They are following existing federal and state laws and hiring legal workers that are contributing to Kentucky’s economy.  To overburden them with unproven technologies will discourage new business growth and expansion in the Commonwealth.

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    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

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