(The Center Square) – The Texas Public Policy Foundation and a state Republican representative from north Texas are hoping the state legislature will approve stronger employment verification laws after a record nearly 1.8 million [unlawful] foreign nationals were apprehended in Texas in fiscal 2022.
As people from over 150 countries pour into Texas, current state law doesn’t have provisions that Florida has, implemented by the Florida legislature and governor in 2020.
State Rep. Matt Shaheen, a Republican from north Dallas, introduced HB 602, which would require political subdivisions to participate in the federal electronic verification of employment authorization program, E-Verify. Political subdivisions, defined in the bill, include a county, municipality, school district, junior college district, other special district or other subdivision of state government.
The bill amends local government code requiring the subdivisions to register and participate in E-Verify and to fire employees who won’t comply.
It was introduced after a similar bill, HB 1336, failed to pass the Republican-controlled legislature last session, which would have required state contractors and political subdivisions to participate in E-Verify.
SB 766 passed in the last session, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law, requiring sexually oriented businesses, like strip clubs and massage parlors, which are often used as sex trafficking hubs, to participate in E-Verify. It was seen as one way to strengthen anti-sex trafficking measures.
In 2015, the Texas legislature passed a bill Abbott signed into law requiring state agencies and higher education institutions to register and participate in E-Verify for all newly hired employees. The Texas Workforce Commission provides registration information and online forms for the E-Verify program to all agency heads, human resource directors, and university presidents, it says.
Currently, no state law requires private companies to comply with E-Verify. Special interests and Texas businesses that have lobbied against stronger employment verification laws, critics argue, do so because they may be exploiting migrants to profit off cheap labor and unintentionally or intentionally participating in forced labor and human trafficking.
As law enforcement officers have explained to The Center Square, those smuggled into Texas working at hotels or other businesses “work for cartels” who hold their passports, control their movements, and oversee their forced labor and living arrangements.
Cartels, and their affiliated gang operatives, “charge their modern-day slaves for rent and for food, acting as contractors, divvying up money to workers. As many as 15 people may be staying in a one-bedroom apartment,” Goliad County Sheriff Roy Boyd, who leads an Operation Lone Star task force, told The Center Square. Those trafficked into forced labor “may work for one group and just as they are about to pay off what they owe they are sold to another group and their debt starts all over again,” he said.
The businesses involved, he says, vary from hotels to construction, lawn care, agriculture, health care, transportation, restaurants and others that profit off of cheap labor.
“Employers who knowingly hire unauthorized migrants often take advantage of them by paying extremely low wages, refusing to pay, or even threatening to report them to ICE,” the Texas Public Policy Foundation says in an analysis. “Employers also typically use cheap labor provided by the undocumented workers to avoid adhering to labor laws that must be observed when employing American citizens and lawful residents.”
Those lobbying against stronger employment verification laws, TPPF argues, “do not really want to reduce the illegal jobs magnet through the expansion of E-Verify.”
By contrast, Florida has enacted stronger E-Verify laws under Gov. Ron DeSantis.
In 2020, DeSantis signed a bill into law, which went into effect July 1, 2021, requiring private employers to verify a potential employee’s eligibility either using E-Verify or providing the documentation required by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification form.
Private employers are required to maintain these records for at least three years after a person’s initial date of employment and to provide them upon request to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which oversees the state’s E-Verify system. The law also requires the FDLE to request employment verification of private companies, notify them of noncompliance, and report violators.
Last month, the state sent notices to six companies in violation of the law that are facing losing their state business license and being prohibited from doing business in Florida.