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States Clamping Down on Illegal Immigrant Workers

Recent efforts by Congress to enact immigration reform at the federal level have overshadowed many legislative proposals being debated in statehouses across the country. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 30 states have been considering legislation that in one form or another would place new restrictions on the hiring of undocumented immigrants.

Georgia’s recently enacted “Security and Immigration Compliance Act” requires all public employers to verify the legal status of their workers, and starting in 2008, it limits certain business expense deductions for all employers unless their employees have been authorized to work in the U.S.

Pennsylvania and Tennessee also recently approved restrictions on state contractors who employ undocumented workers. Additionally, the Georgia law increases penalties for human trafficking, which is similar to new laws adopted in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi and Virginia.

During a contentious special session, Colorado legislators passed a bill requiring employers to attest that they have verified the legal status of their employees. Under the bill, which is waiting approval by the governor, the state would have to prove that the employer recklessly disregarded the law before it could impose a fine.

Taking yet another approach, some legislators are requiring applicants to prove their legal status in order to be eligible for state health services and other benefits, including unemployment insurance and in-state tuition discounts. Lawmakers in Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri have enacted legislation with these types of provisions.

State legislators aren’t the only ones turning the spotlight on immigration. The Hazelton (Pa.) City Council adopted ordinances this month that would deny licenses to businesses employing undocumented workers and fine landlords who rent to those who illegally entered the country. Opponents of the new law plan to sue the city, arguing that the federal government has jurisdiction over immigration-related matters. Similar measures have been debated in cities and towns in Florida and California.

Trial lawyers have also jumped into the fray, including a California attorney who has developed a Web site, www.illegalemployers.org, with the intent of suing businesses that hire illegal immigrants under state unfair competition laws. As reported in the Christian Science Monitor, the attorney plans to file five lawsuits a month against employers who “exploit alien workers and take business from their honest competitors.”

For more information about state immigration legislation, click here.

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