Mandatory verification of aliens’ federal legal work status pushed

Posted on Dec 20 2011
New administration-sponsored bill requires use of E-Verify starting on March 1, 2012
By Haidee V. Eugenio

A new Fitial administration-sponsored labor bill seeks to ban employers from hiring new employees on or after March 1, 2012 unless these employers are registered with, and use, a status verification system to check the “federal legal work status” of new employees to help prevent worker exploitation and promote fair competition among businesses.

This early, employers and workers’ groups are reviewing the intent and provisions of the 10-page House Bill 17-254, formally introduced yesterday afternoon by House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan) and four other lawmakers.

This comes weeks after the introduction of a “comprehensive” CNMI labor bill that has been scored for its alleged “inhumane” provisions that include allowing deductions of up to 25 percent from alien workers’ wages and publications of their names in the newspapers for past due medical bills.

A three-page section-by-section analysis of H.B. 17-254 says the legislation calls for “mandatory use of E-Verify” in the CNMI.

The federal government has operated E-Verify, a legal work status verification system, since 2007. It is intended to spot aliens who have no legal work authorization and keep them from being employed in the U.S.

The E-Verify system has an online tutorial, easy registration, and simple online verification information forms. But the verification system is voluntary unless a state requires its use by law or executive order, the bill’s analysis says.

“Due to the federal implementation of PL 110-229, the federalization of immigration law, there are many thousands of unemployed aliens in the Commonwealth, many of whom do not have legal work status. Employers who hire aliens with no work authorization often exploit the aliens, do not pay taxes as legitimate businesses do, and compete unfairly with legitimate businesses that hire U.S. citizens and legal aliens,” HB 17-254’s analysis says.

The bill would make it unlawful for any private sector employer to hire anyone other than a U.S. worker or an alien who holds a current and valid federal work authorization as confirmed by a status verification system.

Any employer who employs a person without valid federal work authorization shall be subject to forfeiture of the employer’s business license for one year to five years, and a civil fine of $1,000 to $5,000.

Under the bill, it shall also be a felony for an alien to accept or perform employment for compensation knowing or in reckless disregard that the person has no current valid federal work authorization during the period in which the employment occurred. Those convicted are subject to imprisonment for one to five years, a fine of $1,000 to $5,000 or both.

Rabby Syed, president of United Workers Movement-NMI, said they would like to get clarification whether E-Verify recognizes the federal Commonwealth-only worker status or CW status unique to the CNMI during the transition period ending on Dec. 31, 2014, as well as parole or parole-in-place that many foreigners have been able to secure from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Syed, when asked for comment on the new labor bill, said the United Workers Movement-NMI does not support any illegal employment.

“Because of this, we don’t see anything wrong with verifying the status of anyone. But we just want to make sure that CW status or parole status are also recognized status under the federal verification system. If not, there’s going to be a problem with a lot of the foreign workers here,” Syed told Saipan Tribune.

Syed, however, said there are other provisions of the bill that may need to be further reviewed, including the part wherein it says “it shall be a rebuttable presumption that a defendant who remains in the Commonwealth unlawfully is at risk of flight.”

The analysis of the bill says the proposed “new employee” requirement would come into effect in about 90 days, although the bill itself provides a March 1, 2012 starting date.

But this provision is made retroactive to Nov. 21, 2009 in order to pick up the aliens hired while the federal government was trying to get their worker regulations out.

Richard Pierce, executive director of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, separately said the Chamber is now reviewing this new labor bill and will be discussing it in today’s board meeting.

The Chamber has also been preparing comments on a previously introduced labor bill, HB 17-234.

Under HB 17-234, employers are no longer required to pay for their alien workers’ medical expenses.

But the House, during yesterday’s session, didn’t act on this bill, introduced by Rep. Froilan Tenorio (Cov-Saipan), Cabrera, and other members.

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