BOISE – Legislation aimed at fighting employment of undocumented immigrants cleared an Idaho Senate committee on Friday, but only after a two-hour hearing that drew extensive testimony opposed to the bill.
Two earlier, more sweeping measures aimed at penalizing employers died in committee.
The bill that cleared committee Friday, SB 1271, sets new penalties for using false documents for employment. Among its provisions: Anyone falsifying documents for employment could face 14 years in prison.
Members of the Senate State Affairs Committee voted to amend the bill. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said he wanted to absolve employers from sanctions if they use the federal “e-Verify” system to check on an employee’s immigration status.
Brent Olmstead, lobbyist for a coalition of agriculture and business groups, testified in favor of the bill, but said after the hearing that if Davis’ amendment were added, his group would oppose the bill.
Numerous people who testified said the immigration legislation has stirred up anti-Hispanic sentiment in their communities. Raquel Reyes of the Community Council of Idaho, formerly the Idaho Migrant Council, said, “This bill is creating real tension. … Immigrants … are being harassed because of the color of their skin.”
She told the story of an incident between two schoolchildren; a girl gave a boy a flier about Cinco de Mayo, and when he saw a Mexican flag on it, he said, “You are an illegal alien, I will get my daddy’s gun and shoot you.” The girl was a U.S. citizen and a child of U.S. citizens; the boy was suspended from school for a day.
“It is likely he is only repeating what adults are saying,” Reyes told lawmakers.
Davis said the felony penalty and 14-year prison term “sure seems very strong,” but he didn’t propose changing it. Sponsors of the bill said that was intended to apply to those in the business of manufacturing false documents, but as written, if the employee filled in his name on the falsified document, he’d be eligible for that penalty as well.
The bill also includes two-year misdemeanor penalties for employers and employees in false-document cases.