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Legal Workers, Welcome To NJ

Just about the first thing I mentioned when I spoke about my bill to impose penalties on companies that knowingly hire illegal workers is that New Jersey should welcome legal immigrants with open arms.

The way I see it, New Jersey is the best state in the greatest country in the world and it’s where I want to live out my American Dream. I’m proud to work here and to live here with my family.

As my colleague and friend, Senator John Adler, said when he signed on as co-sponsor of my bill, S-1312, there’s nothing wrong with encouraging people to live life by the rules. That’s really the goal of this legislation – to protect honest workers who want to live in New Jersey and raise their kids here and to punish those who want to cheat the system by cutting payroll costs through the use of illegal workers.

I believe most businesses make an honest attempt to comply with hiring rules. Unfortunately, there are would-be scam artists out there who need to be constrained by the force of law.

It’s almost amusing when people suggest I’m promoting this bill on behalf of organized labor because I’m employed by an ironworkers’ union. The truth is, I’m advancing this bill because it’s the right thing to do for legal workers and honest businesses who are playing by the rules.

What’s not amusing at all, however, is the suggestion that the bill is some form of anti-Hispanic venture. In fact, the sanctions would apply for hiring illegals from any country. Hopefully, a full review by the Governor’s Advisory Panel on Immigrant Policy will dispel any notions that specific ethnic groups are being targeted.

A similar Arizona statute was recently was upheld by a federal judge who rejected claims it usurped the federal government’s right to regulate immigration and held federal law specifically grants authority for states to impose sanctions on business licenses.

Under the bill, a company found to have knowingly hired an illegal worker would face a first-offense penalty of having its license to do business in New Jersey suspended for 10 days. Subsequent offenses would lead to a permanent license revocation. Employers who check the immigration status of new workers with the federal E-Verify Program would be exempt from any sanctions if illegals turn up on their workforces.

The federal Department of Homeland Security has advanced the E-Verify Program as a simple-to-use, Web-based system that electronically confirms the employment eligibility of newly hired workers.

In addition, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said it is working to streamline procedures for securing temporary work visas to expedite efforts by U.S. companies to bring foreign nationals here for temporary or seasonal agricultural work.

The bill would take effect January 1st. First offenders would be required to terminate unauthorized aliens and file quarterly lists of new hires with the county prosecutor during a probationary period of up to five years. A false charge against an innocent company would be a disorderly persons offense punishable by up to six months imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.

The problem individual states have is that the federal government is not enforcing national immigration laws. If New Jersey puts my bill on the books, I believe companies will know there will be enforceable consequences if they cheat the system. I think it’s just the incentive some businesses need.

Senate Majority Leader Sweeney, a Democrat, represents the 3rd Legislative District which consists of Salem County and parts of Cumberland and Gloucester counties.