Associated Press - Illinois Sued Over New Employment Law
Springfield, Ill., Sep 25 - By Ryan Keith
The federal government is suing Illinois over a new state law it says unlawfully trumps a federal employment verification program for new hires.
The U.S. attorney's office for central Illinois filed the lawsuit Monday. It asks a federal judge to block Illinois from implementing the law, which would prevent employers from participating in the national program unless notification improves about employees who aren't legally authorized to work in the United States.
Congress created the voluntary program in the mid-1990s for companies to verify employees' identity and employment eligibility. The goal was to reduce the number of illegal aliens hired unknowingly by employers.
The new Illinois law, approved by state lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Rod Blagojevich last month, bars companies from participating in the program unless they get notice of workers' ineligibility within three days in 99 percent of cases. It is supposed to go into effect Jan. 1.
The lawsuit contends the 750 Illinois employers participating in the program would essentially be excluded because of the stricter notification requirement. The government now advises employers of eligibility within a day in about 93 percent of cases, the lawsuit states.
Illinois' absence will be a substantial obstacle in the government's ability to evaluate how well the program works nationwide, federal attorneys wrote in Monday's filing. The law "frustrates our ability to assist employers in making sure their work force is legal," said Carl Nichols, a deputy assistant U.S. attorney general.
State Rep. Cynthia Soto, a Chicago Democrat who pushed for the law, said she was surprised by the lawsuit because she had not received any complaints from federal officials while pushing for the higher standards in the Legislature. She said the law was spurred by complaints from constituents who were fired by employers who received initial notice that the new hires were not documented residents but before final verification.
"That's unfair, too," Soto said about the quick firings. "It doesn't give them a chance."
A spokesman for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said the office had just received the complaint Monday afternoon and was reviewing it.
U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Illinois, applauded the lawsuit for trying to stop Blagojevich, a Democrat, from "creating a virtual sanctuary within the state of Illinois for illegal aliens."
"It is unbelievable that a legislative body would prohibit honest employers the right to voluntarily verify the citizenship status of their workers," Roskam said in a statement.