Budget Ups Undocumented Worker Fines, Adds Mandatory E-Verify

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By Laura D. Francis

Mandatory E-Verify, a shift toward “merit-based” immigration, and higher penalties for employers that hire undocumented workers are included in President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal.

Immigration enforcement—including the president’s promised border wall—is a large portion of the $47.5 billion sought in net discretionary funding for the Homeland Security Department.

“Since taking office, the President has made clear that he would restore order and integrity to the U.S. immigration system,” according to the budget plan released Feb. 12. “There are three primary efforts underlying this goal: strengthening border security; ensuring enforcement of immigration laws; and reforming the legal immigration system, while recognizing that legal immigration is an important driver of a thriving economy.”

In that vein, the proposal includes $570.9 million to hire 2,000 additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, including $208 million for 300 additional special agents within ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations division. HSI is the division that conducts work-site immigration enforcement, which ICE acting Director Thomas Homan promised last year to increase by four- or five-fold.

ICE’s enforcement would be bolstered by a 35 percent increase in penalties for knowingly employing undocumented workers. The agency would also receive $207.6 million in fees collected by and transferred from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, according to a DHS budget summary.

Additional Fees Possible

Employers also could face additional fees when filing visa petitions with USCIS: the budget proposes a 10 percent surcharge on all requests received by the agency, which would go into a general fund used for deficit reduction.

And the Labor Department is renewing calls to charge its own fees when employers submit labor certification applications, a process by which the DOL ensures that hiring foreign workers won’t displace U.S. workers or harm their wages and working conditions. Labor certification currently is funded solely by appropriations.

And this year’s budget continues the Trump administration’s push to make the E-Verify electronic employment verification system mandatory for all employers. The budget proposal seeks $131.9 million for E-Verify, including $23 million to expand it for mandatory use.

Shift Towards Skill-Based System

The budget also renews the president’s call for a shift away from family-based immigration and more toward a system that admits immigrants based on skill level, while at the same time promising to keep up scrutiny of employment-based visas seen last year.

“The Budget supports efforts to reform the legal immigration system by ending family chain migration and the diversity visa lottery and replacing them with a merit-based regime that selects immigrants based on their skills, likelihood to assimilate, and ability to contribute to the economy,” the budget says.

It also “requests the resources needed to adjudicate immigration and visa applications and identify and counter fraud in the immigration process, ensuring that businesses and individuals petitioning for foreign workers and relatives do so in a manner consistent with the Nation’s immigration laws, while ensuring that the American economy continues to access the labor force critically needed for growth.”

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