FRANKFORT — A House committee unanimously approved a bill Thursday to require state and local governments and their private contractors to check the immigration status of employees by using E-Verify, a federal Internet database.
House Bill 3 now proceeds to the full House, which passed versions of the bill in 2009 and 2010, said its sponsor, Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville. Those bills died in the Senate.
Damron told the House Labor and Industry Committee that it makes more sense for Kentucky to address illegal immigration in the workplace than to use the mass arrests and jailing made possible under Senate Bill 6, the Senate Republicans' immigration bill.
"The reason we have illegal immigrants in this country, for the most part, is they're here looking for work, looking for more money than they can make in their home country," Damron said.
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Originally, Damron's bill covered only businesses that win contracts from state and local governments, requiring them to check immigration status for their workers or risk losing their government work. Damron introduced a substitute version Thursday that also covered the governments themselves.
Employers can consult the online E-Verify system in seconds using information they're already required to gather from new employees, including names, birth dates and Social Security numbers, Damron said.
Committee members praised the bill. Democrats on the panel also used the hearing to criticize SB6, now facing discussion in a different House committee.
SB6 would create state crimes for illegal immigrants and those who harbor or transport them, and it would authorize police to ask people about their immigration status. The Senate bill's estimated net cost is $40 million a year.
By contrast, Democrats said, the House bill would reduce the incentive for illegal immigration with just a few computer keystrokes.
"It puts the monkey on the back of the people who are hiring these folks," said Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville.
Kate Miller of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky spoke in opposition to the House bill Thursday, telling the committee that E-Verify has been plagued with errors because of bad data and sometimes fails to recognize U.S. citizens and authorized immigrants on work visas.