Illegal worker bill decried

CARSON CITY — Even if the Legislature passed a law that authorized the state to pull the licenses of casinos that hire illegal immigrants, it wouldn’t happen, an American Civil Liberties Union leader testified Monday.

ACLU state director Gary Peck predicted state officials would never terminate licenses of “major developers or gaming properties” that hire illegal immigrants, but instead punish “vulnerable companies” that have no political power.

“If this bill is passed in its current form, it is not going to be enforced in an even-handed way,” Peck said.

He joined Fernando Romero, president of Hispanics in Politics, in asking the Senate Judiciary Committee to kill Assembly Bill 383.

The proposal, which passed the Assembly 42-0, includes a provision to allow the state Tax Commission to pull the licenses of companies that “willfully, flagrantly or otherwise egregiously” hire illegal immigrants.

But the bill contains a provision that prevents the commission from doing anything until the U.S. Attorney General has made a “final decision” on whether the company has hired illegal immigrants in violation of federal law.

Romero told the committee to reject the bill and wait for Congress to take additional actions on the illegal immigration problem. He added hearings are scheduled for this week.

“I thought immigration was a federal issue,” Romero said. “It saddens me to note we are placing the state of Nevada in harm’s way.”

Judiciary Chairman Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, took no immediate action on the bill.

He asked a staff lawyer to furnish committee members copies of the federal law on hiring illegal immigrants that is mentioned in AB383. Amodei said the committee could act upon the matter today during a work session.

Federal law spells out how it is illegal for a company to willfully hire an “unauthorized alien.” The law specifies $1,000 to $3,000 fines for each violation and steps for the attorney general to take in enforcing the law.

“There is a debate about to ensue in Congress,” Peck said. “It seems terribly ill advised to push forward at this time.”

But David Schumann, a lobbyist for the Nevada Committee for Full Statehood, said states do not have to wait for Congress to take additional action on illegal immigration.

“If someone robs a federal bank, the state can go in and stop them,” he said.

Schumann said illegal immigrants are taking jobs from unskilled Nevadans.

Too often federal officials, including Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., turn their back when major companies hire illegal immigrants, Schumann said.

In December, immigration agents rounded up more than 1,000 illegal immigrants at six Swift Meat Co. plants, including one in Nebraska. News stories noted lines of legal citizens applied for jobs after the illegal workers were deported.

Sen. Mike McGinnness, R-Fallon, said that under the bill an employer could be fined for inadvertently hiring illegal immigrants even if the employer “acted in good faith” and checked to determine whether the workers were legal.

“It seems like we are holding them to a hard standard,” McGinness said.

But state Taxation Director Dino Dicianno said he seriously doubted the Tax Commission would fine a company that inadvertently hired illegal residents.

Assembly Government Affairs Chairman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, whose committee drew up the bill, scarcely mentioned the illegal immigration provisions during her testimony.

Instead Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, emphasized provisions in the bill that make human trafficking in illegal residents a felony crime.

She pointed out how the bill requires the Department of Business and Industry to set up a Web site link with the Social Security Administration to verify whether prospective workers have legitimate Social Security numbers.

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto expressed support of the human trafficking portions of the bills.

She said “coyotes” who bring undocumented people into the country increasingly are “holding them in bondage” and Nevada needs laws to prosecute them.

Both Romero and Peck said they supported the provisions against human trafficking, but questioned why they were placed in a bill to stop illegal immigration.

During the hearing, Romero objected to calling undocumented workers “illegal aliens.” The bill and the federal law, however, contain references to “illegal aliens.”

Romero said it’s a “derogatory term” that shouldn’t be used.

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