JASON RANTZ

Rantz: Dems push unemployment for illegal immigrants, try skirting federal govt.

Feb 16, 2021, 8:00 PM | Updated: Feb 17, 2021, 5:37 am
Sen. Rebecca Saldaña and Sen. Karen Keiser....
Sen. Rebecca Saldaña and Sen. Karen Keiser.

While there are still thousands of Washington residents missing unemployment checks, Washington Democrats are pushing legislation to establish a $350,000,000 unemployment program for illegal immigrants. They’re even trying to avoid the “very irritating” federal government from taking notice.

But lawmakers don’t know who would fund the program. They acknowledge employers can’t pay premiums on employees they hired illegally. That means, if passed, taxpayers could pay for the unemployment benefits.

What’s worse, the program Democrats set up would be very easy to defraud. The state can’t even verify the worker is eligible for the unemployment.

Unemployment for illegal immigrants

Under SB 5438, the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) would administer the Washington Income Replacement for Immigrant Workers Program. While it is meant to be permanent, the program would start out as temporary. It would provide COVID relief through June 30, 2022 (retroactive from Jan. 1, 2021).

Under the current system, workers may not receive unemployment benefits if they’re in this country illegally. If Senate Bill 5438 passes, however, illegal immigrants would be eligible for $400 in weekly benefits. The system, by design, comes with very little vetting.

A claimant for unemployment could submit documentation showing they qualify — which would include, somehow, proof that they’re in the country illegally. But if they can’t (which is likely the case), they would merely need to submit an affidavit attesting that they are eligible under the program. But the state may not confirm the eligibility. And if there’s reason to believe the claimant is committing fraud? There is no recourse.

Easy to commit fraud — by design?

The legislation prohibits L&I from asking someone of their immigration status, even though accepting the unemployment insurance indicates they are in this country illegally.

The department cannot keep any records indicating which documents the person used to prove their age and/or identity. L&I wouldn’t even be able to contact their employer to verify any of the information claimed by the worker. In fact, the state isn’t allowed to confirm they’re no longer working. The law prohibits the state from, “Contacting an individual’s current, former, or prospective employers including, but not limited to, for the purposes of  verifying employment status.”

If it becomes clear a fraud took place, it will be hard to prove in court.

The bill demands L&I “destroy all records containing information that were provided by an individual or collected by the department to verify eligibility for the program within 15 days of an individual’s written statement that they are no longer using the program.” That means a subpoena would have to come before the documents were destroyed. Given how little information is collected, the documents they have may be useless anyway.

This is all done because they do not want there to be a threat of deportation that scares a worker from using the fund. But these prohibitions are so over the top it’s farcical. Regardless of status, contacting an employer to make sure you are no longer working — or that you even worked to begin with — shouldn’t be off limits.

Who pays? Who cares! Avoiding the “very irritating” federal government is the key

Lawmakers don’t know who will pay for the fund.

The bill’s main sponsor, State Senator Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle), downplays the concerns. She wants the focus to be on 2021’s progressive buzzword of equity.

“It does have some major questions and issues that need to be raised around who pays, but I think it is important to recognize that this pandemic has highlighted that our state’s recovery has to be inclusive and more equitable than the current situation,” she told her colleagues at a committee hearing.

But State Senator Karen Keiser (D-Kent) pushed the issue. She noted, “the current unemployment insurance program is funded entirely by premiums paid by employers, it doesn’t come from the general fund or from other sources.”

“When an undocumented worker is working they may or may not have unemployment premiums paid on their work, we don’t know because if the employer admitted to employing an undocumented worker it could be liable because that’s against the law, so it’s a conundrum really to puzzle out. …”

Keiser has an idea — a scheme to get the funding without going through the unemployment program. She wonders if they can use the workers’ compensation plan. Workers and employers fund that directly. Plus, the “very irritating” federal government won’t get involved this way.

“The workers’ compensation system doesn’t have any federal interference regarding undocumented workers, so I appreciate this approach to using the Department of Labor and Industries because you don’t have the federal interference, but you do have the question of who pays,” Keiser said.

Lost in the discussion

Employers often exploit illegal immigrant workers. This debate seems eager to ignore that point.

Businesses don’t merely keep these employment arrangements discreet because they’ve hired illegal immigrants; it’s kept discreet because, in many cases, the worker is being mistreated, paid below minimum wage, and are not given mandated time off. These workers, due to being in the country illegally, have little leverage over their employers to demand decent pay and treatment. Progressive politicians, like those in Washington, think codifying protections and benefits will make things better. But it’s quite the opposite.

This just legitimizes illegal labor on the state level. It makes it easier for the federal government to continuously balk at meaningful immigration reform. Why risk getting involved when states are handling it?

On the national level, politicians can continue to use the issue on both sides for votes. Democrats will signal their virtue by declaring they won’t enforce the law. Then a Republican in office will enforce them. It’s a roller coaster of immigration policies.

Meanwhile, unscrupulous employers abuse illegal immigrants too scared to report the abuse. And if they do report their employers, it’ll be difficult for them to find another job with decent business owners. The decent ones will rightly worry about the next time the party in power will enforce the law, and they won’t want to put their livelihoods on the line, even if progressive Democrats in Washington say they will have their backs.

How about the state does better to lobby for federal immigration reform? Too hard, I guess.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz on Twitter, and Instagram and like me on Facebook

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Rantz: Dems push unemployment for illegal immigrants, try skirting federal govt.