House Judiciary Committee
Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims
Hearing: "How Illegal Immigration Impacts Constituencies:
Perspectives from Members of Congress (Part III)."
November 17, 2005
Testimony Submitted by Congressman Marsha Blackburn
Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for holding these hearings and for inviting me to testify on the impact of illegal immigration to my home state of Tennessee.
In 1990, only 11,000 illegal immigrants resided in Tennessee, today there are at least 46,000 in the state. Many of these immigrants now hold Tennessee driver's licenses. In 2001, Tennessee decided to issue driver's licenses without requiring an applicant to produce a Social Security number or prove their legal residency in our country. The result of this policy was a huge increase in demand.
While in the State Senate, I worked to change this ill-conceived and dangerous policy. I proposed legislation requiring individuals applying for a Tennessee driver's license to actually prove that they were in fact who they claimed to be and that they were legal residents. Today, Tennessee mandates that immigrants only receive a proper driver's licenses if they present a Social Security number or proper immigration papers. If they do not, they receive a driving certificate. Yet, this has not prevented illegal immigrants from obtaining the licenses.
In July 2005, two illegal immigrants were arrested as they attempted to get drivers licenses in Knoxville. They paid a New Jersey couple $950 to travel to Tennessee and obtain the necessary documents and paperwork needed to get a license. The couple had been doing this for several months and had helped at least 60 illegal immigrants procure Tennessee driver's licenses. The two immigrants were released three weeks ago and have thirty days to find transportation and voluntarily depart from the country.
Another problem facing both Tennessee and other states is the infiltration of hundreds of illegal immigrants using fraudulent documents to work at nuclear and chemical plants, and military bases for contractors. In June 2005, the Department of Energy's Inspector General found sixteen illegal immigrants working at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee Y-12 nuclear weapons plant with fraudulent identification. They had access to "official use only" documents, and investigators stated that this access represented a potentially serious access control and security problem.
This is just one example of a growing trend of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department allowing contractors to self-certify the citizenship of their employees. Worksite enforcement is a low priority for ICE as they have continually devoted less and less resources to this area and often lowering the amount of fines in negotiations with employers. GAO has stated that this policy undermines effective enforcement and allows company owners view fines simply as the cost of doing business. GAO also stated that U.S. employers will continue to hire illegal immigrants because of these lax enforcement efforts and as the proliferation of fake documents increases.
I believe it is necessary to make federal contractors, who often oversee work at these critical infrastructure sites, verify the legal status of their employees to ensure security is not compromised. Also, contractors must not be allowed to negotiate the fines down and, continually ignore the law.
I have introduced two bills to address these problems. One of my bills, H.R.2049, the Federal Contractors Security Act, would ensure that federal contractors are not using taxpayer dollars to pay the wages and salaries of illegal immigrants. They would be required, free of charge, to use the Employee Eligibility Verification Program to screen out ineligible workers by verifying names, addresses, and Social Security numbers of newly hired employees against the records of the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration.
Another bill of mine, H.R.3262, the Employee Verification Accountability Act, would not allow ICS to negotiate the fines down, but instead would level a standard fine of $10,000 if the employer knowingly hires an ineligible worker. Together my two bills would greatly reduce the ability of contractors and the ICS to turn a "blind eye" towards the employment of illegal immigrants.
Mr. Chairman, the driver's license problem is in the process of being solved through the enactment of the REAL ID Act. The federal government must begin to put more effort and resources into enforcing current immigration laws. If we do not solve this problem, I believe it is only a matter of time before our national security is further compromised, which could lead to another terrorist attack on our own soil.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement, and I am available to answer questions from the committee.