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Immigration bill likely to hurt more than help

Register's editorial

What's wrong with the state guarding against identity theft that helps someone get a job illegally?

Nothing, until you take a closer look at the potential impacts of a bill intended to do that. Its negative consequences outweigh any potential gains. Lawmakers should defeat House File 2610.

The first problem with the legislation is it makes it more likely that Hispanic workers - whether citizens or undocumented - will be viewed with suspicion. State Rep. Rick Olson, a Des Moines Democrat, said the bill intends only to cast a wide net to catch anyone using fraudulent ID. Yet employers may be more likely to discriminate against Hispanic job applicants if it becomes law.

Under the bill, employees would have to present a Midwestern-issued driver's license or identification card, and employers would have to verify its authenticity by examining it - which is no guarantee they will detect fraud. This is narrower than federal law, which lets new employees use additional forms of identification to prove they are authorized to work, such as a passport or permanent residence card.

That raises a second problem: Iowa business and industry could be put at a competitive disadvantage compared with other states that do not impose narrower rules than the federal government. That's why the lobbyists who have declared opposition to the bill include representatives of Master Builders of Iowa, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry and the Iowa Chamber Alliance. Creating higher hurdles for hiring makes no sense when a serious work-force shortage is projected for Iowa.

In fact, the only declared supporters of the bill were the Iowa Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, the Central Iowa Building and Construction Trades Council and the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council. Tom Gillespie, who represents both councils, said their support rests primarily on the desire to root out misuse of employees as independent contractors, which is also addressed by the bill.

Protecting Iowans against identity theft and safeguarding workers against exploitation are important, but it is not at all clear this legislation will accomplish that - though it will cost taxpayer dollars. Olson said the bill goes hand in hand with requirements Iowa must meet under the federal REAL ID law, but it seems more like election-year pandering to anti-immigrant sentiment.

Growing frustration with the federal government's failure to fix the nation's broken immigration system is understandable. An estimated 12 million illegal immigrants are in the country. In light of the lack of leadership in Congress, many states are trying to craft their own laws to discourage undocumented workers from remaining and newcomers from trying to cross the border.

Yet immigration policy can logically be set only by the federal government. A hodgepodge of state laws at best creates confusion. Instead of passing House File 2610, Iowa lawmakers should join lawmakers from other states to pressure Washington to agree to reforms such as realistic immigration quotas to meet employer needs and reunify families. Include a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here, if they are otherwise in good standing.

That would be practical and compassionate. The bill in the Iowa House is neither.

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