03/27/12 – House Committee on Labor

4:30 p.m.

Worried about getting a seat for the House Committee on Labor hearing concerning E-Verify, I made sure to arrive early. I needn’t have worried, although the hearing is in room 135, there’s still plenty of space. Judging from familiar faces and other folks’ interactions with them, it’s fair to say that the room is strongly, if not totally in favor of the legislation:

  • 7315: “Codifies into law” Gov. Carcieri’s executive order requiring state departments to use E-Verify.
  • 7927: Expands the E-Verify requirement to cover non-government employees.

5:02 p.m.

Committee members are filtering in. No real change in the composition of the room. Perhaps it won’t be a midnight hearing, after all (that’s perhaps a reckless prediction to make).

The crowd is smaller than it was for last week’s teacher-related hearing, with a different composition. None of the union lobbyists are here, for example. But Bob Plain from RI Future is.

5:07 p.m.

And now it appears that RI Future has left the room…

At any rate, we’ve got better attendance of committee members.

Chairwoman Anastasia Williams called Rep. Peter Palumbo to introduce his bill. Apparently, it’s his birthday.

Rep. Peter Palumbo

Williams is beginning the hearing talking about expecting respect for members of the committee. “It’s unfair of anyone to misrepresent something that somebody has said… especially in a newspaper or radio show.”

Rep. Anastasia Williams

It appears that some report after a hearing misrepresented statements.

Now Rep. Scott Guthrie is speaking. Apparently, a Tea Party in Action alert cited a Web site with something that Guthrie said and he and Williams have received emails on the topic.

Rep. Scott Guthrie

Guthrie elaborated that it had something to do with assumptions of how he was going to vote. No specific details were provided.

Williams notes that Harry Staley of RISC has expressed support for the bills and Governor Chafee has written against.

Palumbo was going to testify, but his son called his cell phone to wish him a happy birthday. In the meantime, Williams noted that Ocean State Tea Party in Action opposes the bill. (She must have misspoken.) The ACLU opposes E-Verify.

5:15 p.m.

Palumbo begins by noting that….

Oh wait, Williams reminded Rep. Roberto DaSilva to make the motion to hold everything for further study. Hull and Felalla opposed.

Rep. Roberto DaSilva

5:17 p.m.

Palumbo is describing 7315, saying that the bill is an agreement between the federal government and the state of Rhode Island.

The law is meant to curb a problem involving 20,000 and 40,000 illegal immigrants, a $300 million problem.

5:19 p.m.

Palumbo cites overwhelming support for the bill. Stipulations in the bill against discrimination. “Not going out and picking people off the streets or going to picnics” and checking suspicious people.

Also goes to parole board.

Palumbo doesn’t understand why Gov. Chafee would overturn this. “It merely protects us from people who could be terrorists.”

5:22 p.m.

“Here’s the situation: I’ve never said that I want to put all the illegal aliens on a bus or a plane and send them back to their own country.” He says stopping the availability of jobs, they’ll self-deport.

When E-Verify went live, 1,400 fewer people registered for Providence schools. “They realized, RI is checking.” They went elsewhere.

“They have the coyotes on the border who tell people where to go.” A friend of Palumbo’s working the border told him about a piece of paper on which Providence was in the top 10 places for illegal immigrants to go.

5:24 p.m.

He says the economy necessitates the action. He uses the image of a life raft, and we’re putting too many people in it.

A friend of his is married to a Colombian. She wanted to bring her parents for a visit but couldn’t get a visa because so many people had stayed on expired visas that no more could be given out.

Palumbo will be asking for a vote, so people shouldn’t be worried that the bill was held for further study.

5:26 p.m.

Williams wonders if the Census took into consideration the illegal immigrants when counting people in RI, thus keeping our number of Congressmen intact.

Rep. Jay Edwards whispered something to her.

Rep. John Edwards

Rep. Ray Hull asked if Palumbo would let E-Verify go away if the economy turned around.

5:29 p.m.

Palumbo noted it as a fact that human services will give people a “bypass number” if they don’t have Social Security numbers.

DaSilva asked if illegal immigration is the cause of RI’s bad economy. Palumbo said it’s a contributing factor.

DaSilva also asked if this bill would stop the use of bypass numbers. Palumbo says “no.”

Williams expressed doubt that the “bypass” is really occurring. Palumbo says they documented it during the last administration.

DaSilva wonders if addressing that ought to be the more appropriate approach to the $300 million problem. Palumbo says illegal immigrants are coming here because they no the state doesn’t check on them.

5:25 p.m.

Rep. Jack Savage notes that, if we assume that the 1,400 fewer students were exclusively illegal immigrants, that number alone (by the funding formula) would account for around $12 million.

Williams asked if there’s any state documentation of the $300 million. Palumbo says he will get it to the committee.

Edwards asked how many jobs immigrants are working. Palumbo says we can’t know until there’s E-Verify.

Now Palumbo is describing time he’s spent in other countries, so he knows why they would want to come here. He would do the same. But when they get here, because they’re illegal, they’re treated as slaves.

5:38 p.m.

Rep. Robert Phillips asked if the 20-40,000 count includes children, because that would indicate an even larger drain on school budgets.

Rep. Robert Philips

Palumbo doesn’t know if they’re included.

Williams asked if anybody has looked for a “solution” to the problem. “It’s one thing coming before the General Assembly with the same bills, with the same supporters, with the same tune, with the same same-old-same-old-same-old, but nobody’s talking about: ‘here’s another possibility.'”

“Let’s say E-Verify passes in its current form, will people disappear.” Palumbo says yes. Williams: “Do you honestly believe that?”

Palumbo notes that the bill has passed the House. He thinks there’s movement in the Senate, so this bill can pass now.

“If we can get it on the floor, then I believe it can pass.”

5:42 p.m.

Edwards cited two southern states that implemented harsher immigration laws and experienced self-deportation.

Rep. Spencer Dickinson is stating that Rhode Islanders who are stuck on the bottom rung of society are impeded by the competition of illegal laborers. He wonders if any economists have attempted to calculate that.

Rep. Spencer Dickinson

Palumbo noted that we can’t know. He also referred to the current unemployment rate as evidence that the “jobs people don’t want” argument for importing immigrants is incorrect. After an immigration raid in Fall River, he notes, there were lines out the door for the jobs.

5:46 p.m.

DaSilva asked if the E-Verify bill will “solve the problem” if illegal immigrants can still apply for services.

Palumbo’s response: nothing will solve the problem, but this will make RI less attractive.

A question from Edwards about private companies using E-Verify has led Palumbo to offer an anecdote about a company owner that he met who has been using it for years. “It takes 15 minutes.” The owner wouldn’t do business without it.

5:50 p.m.

Williams asked who will monitor E-Verify participants who don’t bother following it, anyway.

Palumbo: Dept. of Labor and Training. We can’t do everything, he says, but we do what we can.

5:52 p.m.

Savage clarifies that the bill will only apply to new hires. Palumbo: “As long as we stop the bleeding.”

5:53 p.m.

Williams read off a number of social work and organizations with “international” in their names oppose the legislation.

5:54 p.m.

Terry Gorman from Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement is up. Williams asks that anybody testifying after him taking the same side only add to his points, rather than repeating it.

Terry Gorman - RIILE

5:56 p.m.

Gorman pointed out that a commission watching the E-Verify implementation during the last administration uncovered “0.0” complaints.

Citing Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Gorman points out that the Latino business community is the fastest-growing economic sector in Providence.

“It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that we shouldn’t have” illegal immigrants working in Rhode Island.

5:58 p.m.

On the second bill, Gorman doesn’t know how we would ever figure out the impact of illegal immigrants on people in the lower economic classes.

“Illegal immigrants are displacing uneducated, poorer Americans in these jobs.”

He says the federal government says that out of an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, 7 million are working. That would be around 17,000 in Rhode Island

There are between 7,800-9,300 English language learners in our schools, he says. He doesn’t think they are all the children of illegal immigrants.

10 reasons to pass the bill:

No tax increase

No program cuts

Only affects people living in RI who have broken the law

Simplest solution to budget problems (“I do think this is a solution”)

Instant deterrent

Those in the workforce would begin to leave (“It’s a myth that illegal immigrants are hiding in the shadows.”)

Open up jobs for unemployed

Open up jobs for returning veterans

And for more legal immigrants (“The more the merrier.”)

Illegal immigrants consider RI a “destination state.”

6:03 p.m.

Gorman: 80 children showed up at Woonsocket schools, last year, unable to speak English. He cites $21 million savings just in Providence from student reductions.

Williams asked if Gorman has checked in with Providence since the E-Verify was reimplemented with Gov. Chafee’s change of policy.

Gorman says the Providence school department won’t talk to him anymore. “I’m a pariah.”

6:06 p.m.

Gorman cites 350 pregnant women in the system last year, which would bring 350 new citizens entitled to public services.

Williams paused him to ask if Rep. Maria Cimini can verify that. She spoke from the audience that she’ll testify to it later.

6:08 p.m.

Gorman estimated money that illegal immigrants are sending home (I got lost in the numbers). Edwards objected that legal immigrants are sending money home.

Gorman notes a Pew Hispanic Center study. It describes the demographic qualities of “unauthorized population” in RI. Families, young, working.

6:12 p.m.

“President Obama has made E-Verify mandatory across the country” for any business that does business with the government. “He went one step further,” requiring those companies to verify the status of existing employees.

This legislation wouldn’t go that far in RI.

6:14 p.m.

Gorman says there are 2,700+ companies using E-Verify in Rhode Island. He also says there’s great support of E-Verify. (Williams says they’re all emailing her.)

6:16 p.m.

Gorman notes that agencies are starting to advertise that their employees are all eVerified.

By the way, I think this might be what Guthrie was objecting to at the start of the meeting:

This past week, the Labor Committee members went beyond asking questions for clarification. Keith Anderson, East Providence teacher, testified in support of the Teachers’ Right to Work bill. (The OSTPA dubs this the “Freedom of Choice” bill). He explained his position and why he personally believed in an individual’s reliance on his ability to excel in his profession as opposed to being part of a collective bargaining unit that provides job protection. Labor Committee member Rep. Guthrie, retired firefighter, tried to persuade Mr. Anderson that the union is a better way because it provides job security. Rep. Guthrie went so far as to say that he wouldn’t want his daughter to take a teaching job if there were no job security. Unfortunately, the lone conservative voice of the labor committee, Rep. Newberry, was not in attendance to inject support for this bill or to provide questions or comments for a different perspective.

I’m glad it wasn’t my reporting that he considered objectionable, but I do have to say that it seems like a pretty fair summary. You can read the liveblog to decide for yourself.

6:17 p.m.

Back to the hearing: Gorman says the benefits would begin “the day E-Verify passes.” Out on the border, RI would move from the top 10 “go to” places to 25.

Williams asked if he can provide that list. He said he’d have to talk to Palumbo.

After a question from DaSilva, Gorman stated that there are 4,000 people using the “666” number to bypass Social Security numbers. (Some might be newborns, but they tend to get S.S. numbers before they leave the hospitals.

6:21 p.m.

Gorman is “sure” that the local hospitals know exactly how much money is spent on illegal aliens, but he can’t get the numbers. But people call him constantly from people working in the system who are fed up with it.

One anecdote: A woman from Cape Verde came to the U.S. to deliver a baby for free. She went home. She returned to have her second baby… and complained about the service the first time.

DaSilva, who asked the initial question says that such scenarios wouldn’t be fixed with E-Verify. He clarifies that he’s not against the bill, but he wants to know what would stop that… federal law? What?

Gorman is insisting that E-Verify is a deterrent. But some people might still “sneak here” to get services. He sees E-Verify as a step toward enforcing laws. [I’d note that reducing illegal immigration in general would make it more notable when it does.]

6:27 pm.

Gorman says that our dept. of human services considers a baby in an illegal immigrant mother’s womb to be a citizen, thus granting them services.

In response to a question from Edwards, Gorman says that 16 states have implemented E-Verify, and the data appears to indicate that illegal immigrants leave afterwards.

6:29 p.m.

Guthrie says he’d like to know the breakdown of the $300 million expense of federal and state dollars. His point, I think, was that RI could turn to the feds for “tools” to address the issue.

6:31 p.m.

Guthrie has followed with a technical question about the order of hiring and E-Verifying. I didn’t really follow the discussion.

Gorman has moved on to make the point that the states should begin to insist that the federal government compensate them for education costs, if it’s a mandate.

6:33 p.m.

Hull says he “likes the bill,” but we have to be compassionate and considerate about not using the legislation to go after legal immigrant or citizen Hispanics.

Gorman: “Rest assured, that that’s not the case.” He notes a large group of illegal Russians in Pawtucket. In a recent raid in CT, the arrested illegals were from 17 different countries. In Boston, 35 Irishmen went home because they were worried about Immigration. (I thought he was building up to a joke…)

Philips: notes that it’s illegal for school systems to ask whether students are documented. He suggested that legislation may be needed at the federal level to allow surveys.

Gorman says the Dept. of Justice has that on hold. However, he thinks there would be clues that would allow a reasonable estimate (assessment of the children, services from the state gov).

6:39 p.m.

Just a note that we’re still on witness #2.

6:40 p.m.

Williams: She allowed the sponsor and Mr. Gorman to expound upon their information. Now, she’s going to offer 2 people testifying against. Five have signed up against; 20 have signed up in favor. She asks that people not just repeat testimony.

Edwards offered her the word “succinct.”

6:43 p.m.

Now Rep. Maria Cimini is up. She coordinates the food stamp program from URI. Every penny of SNAP (SNAP) and RI works (the cash program) is federal. “Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for those programs.”

Rep. Maria Cimini

She argues that the “666” numbers are used to create a case file for a household, but those households aren’t eligible for services… or rather, they’re not eligible for the family amount, but just the single-person amount.

“I am certain that there is some fraud.” She puts the fraud rate at 1.5% nationally. Also, SNAP benefits have a five-year wait for eligibility.

She doesn’t know the rules about pregnant women. But in 2005-2006, the General Assembly made undocumented children not eligible for RIte Care.

This is interesting, she says that TANF recipients went down during the recession in Rhode Island.

6:48 p.m.

Williams: Can the “666” number gain access to section 8 housing?

Cimini doesn’t know and doesn’t want to speculate. She notes that the majority of SNAP recipients are white, so the amount of illegal immigrant fraud is likely low.

DaSilva: Who issues the 666 number?

Cimini: State.

6:51 p.m.

Philips asked how much state money could be saved by reducing administration by reducing the use of the problem through E-Verify.

Cimini says that the case load has gone up, while the staff number has gone down (more than doubling the case loads each).

Savage asked about TANF limits. Fed limits 5 years; RI imposes lifetime limit of 4 years, 2 years at a time. Savage speculates that that may be causing the reduction in applicants. Cimini doesn’t know but would guess so.

6:54 p.m.

Cynthia Hiatt from the RI Commission for Human Rights (state agency) is testifying against. She’s pointing out that there have been instances of employers firing people who get a “tentative non-confirmation” response, creating a disparate impact on legal immigrants.

Cynthia Hiatt - Commission on Human Rights

6:56 p.m.

She’s also concerned that overburdened small companies (the second bill sets the bar at 3 employees) may just turn away people who appear foreign.

Philips asked if there’s a penalty for premature firing of eVerified employees. Answer: No penalty, unless the person can prove discrimination.

6:58 p.m.

Williams announces a two-minute rule.

First up is Mike Puyana, from the RI Tea Party. He says he’s Colombian, and he sees no problem with the legislation. He also points out that E-Verify is a very quick process, with high customer satisfaction scores.

Michael Puyana - RI Tea Party

7:01 p.m.

Hilary Davis, ALCU. Opposes. We need to keep in mind that our agreement with the federal government would not mean that the feds would pay for the job to be done implementing E-Verify. She says the cost “can be considerable.”

Hilary Davis - ACLU

“Larger than the financial cost is the tremendous moral cost.” She says we do have a proven racial profiling problem in Rhode Island. She gets calls from people who are harassed, and that will increase.

She says the E-Verify database has more errors than the U.S. has illegal immigrants. Williams noted that she’s out of time.

7:04 p.m.

Bruno Tassoni (?): Is in favor of the bills. He’s trying to get a meeting with the governor, trying to apply pressure on the federal government to seal our borders completely and overturn the mandate for education of illegal immigrants.

Bruno Tassoni

“Why are there cities in towns in dire straits financially? It’s the school system.” Illegal immigrants “draining us” is “killing us.”

7:06 p.m.

He says the last information he has is that E-Verify is 97% accurate.

Philips says he thinks children who are legal should be educated regardless of their illegal immigrant parents.

Witness: Anchor babies law has to be changed, as well.

7:08 p.m.

Roberto Gonzalez, an immigration lawyer, is speaking against the legislation, saying it fails to address the problems that it attempts to. He thinks the relevant program will be faded out in favor of “secure communities” legislation (which he opposes, too).

Roberto Gonzalez

“There’s a big irony”: “Many of the people who stand on their soap boxes to condemn mandates are the very people that are now supporting what I think is another government mandate.”

He points out that most of the states that have E-Verify are southern.

There’s a reason that the progressive-leaning liberal states in the north haven’t done it.

7:11 p.m.

Williams called time. The lawyer objected that Gorman got a lot of time, so he was hoping he could get more time.

7:13 p.m.

Somehow, I don’t think I’m going to get to the House Corporations hearing…

Now Diane McLaughlin from the Ocean State Tea Party in Action. She notes a 2% initial rejection rate from the GAO. “I’m not sure where the ACLU gets their figures.”

Diane McLaughlin - Ocean State Tea Party in Action

“Whether it’s federal dollars or state dollars, it’s still taxpayer dollars.”

7:16 p.m.

Martha Yeager is representing a Quaker (American Friends) organization. He says that there may have been no official complaints filed for the E-Verify bill, but she’s heard that there was a strong feeling of fear and questions about the report (commission members resigned over it and such).

Martha Yeager

She worries about a vigilante attitude in “some folks who take it upon themselves to be immigration agents.”

She notes that illegal immigration appears to have decreased, but because of the recession, not the law. She also notes that farmers and restaurant owners in states with E-Verify are crying that they can’t get workers anymore. [At least not for below-market wages, some might note.]

7:20 p.m.

Williams announced that everybody remaining is for the bills.

John Arcaro made the interesting point that Governor Chafee argued that E-Verify didn’t do anything for the economy. Well, he says, by that logic it’s suspicious that the economy hasn’t improved since he rescinded it.

John Arcaro

He notes that his wife and sons are immigrants who waited up to 4 years and 9 months to come to the country. He described the day his son came home having found out that some of the kids at school “cheated” by coming to the country illegally, unlike him.

7:24 p.m.

Carolyn Medeiros, Alliance for Safe Communities, supports the bill based on its experience with domestic abuse and other crimes.

Carolyn Medeiros - Alliance for Safe Communities

7:25 p.m.

She notes that the Alliance has even worked with illegal immigrants to help them improve their communities.

7:27 p.m.

She’s branched into advocating against medical marijuana. Committee members asked if she’s submitted legislation on that issue through her legislator. She said, “no.”

7:28 p.m.

Ron Delaquette is for both bills. He’s first-generation American from Canada… I thought he looked different.

Ron Delaquette

He points out that there aren’t fruit pickers in Rhode Island and Rhode Islanders need the jobs.

[Random note: This guy could call people on the phone and say he’s Steve Laffey… very similar voices.]

7:31 p.m.

“Illegal workers lower the value of the work hour for everybody.”

7:32 p.m.

He says he’s a Christian, but what the law is doing is hurting some people to help others.

Williams, joking: “We gotta break bread. We gotta find a way.”

Time’s up.

7:33 p.m.

Gary Wincoop: We need some kind of structure, some kind of law, to resolve immigration problems.

Gary Wincoop

7:35 p.m.

Hearing is done.

7:42 p.m.

And I missed House Corporations… not surprisingly.

By the way, I figured out that the reason I was unable to get on the WiFi is that it doesn’t appear to work in Firefox. I was able to log in using IE, although paranoia about tech-savvy Marxists led me to switch to my portable HotSpot, anyway.

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