Senate votes to double fines for illegal hiring
The Senate voted Tuesday to fine employers who hire illegal immigrants up to $20,000 for each unauthorized worker, providing teeth to a broad immigration bill before sending it to a final vote later this week.
Employers would have to check Social Security numbers and the immigration status of all new hires within 18 months after money is provided to the Homeland Security Department to expand the electronic system for screening workers.
"This is probably the single most important thing we can do in terms of reducing the inflow of undocumented workers, making sure we can enforce in a systematic way rules governing who gets hired," said Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).
The amendment passed 58-40.
The $20,000 fines for hiring illegal immigrants would be double the level now.
Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) scheduled a test vote for Wednesday that sets up the bill's final passage, likely Thursday. Its most controversial provision would put more than half of the nation's 12 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship without having to leave the U.S.
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) said Tuesday he plans to offer a bill this week that would let employers rehire illegal workers now on their payrolls after they have returned home and applied for a new "W" visa to return.
"The solution is to set up a system that will encourage illegal workers to self-deport and come back legally as guest workers," said Pence, who earlier voted for the enforcement-only House bill.
The Senate defeated an effort Tuesday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to allow all illegal immigrants to remain, in contrast to the Senate compromise that would require more than two-thirds of them to leave.