According to the AP, the measure would be tacked onto impending legislation that would grant legal status to millions of immigrants.
The employer penalties added to the bill on Tuesday by a vote of 58-40 was an effort to curtail the number of jobs that draw illegal immigrants to the United States, the newswire reported.
The bill calls for fining employers who do not use the computerized screening system – which would include information from the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and Homeland Security Department. Proposed fines range from $200 to $600. The AP reported that the $20,000 fines for hiring illegal immigrants once the new screening system is in place would be double the present level. Repeated violators could be sentenced to prison terms of up to three years.
The Senate bill is less aggressive that the House bill passed in December, which called for fines ranging from $5,000 to $40,000 and requires a screening process for all employees, not just new hires.
The AP reported that the Senate bill requires employers 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.
When the system is in place, employers would have to input workers’ information into the system within three days of the hire date. The Homeland Security Department would then have 10 days to determine whether or not the worker is legal.
The bill includes a safety net measure to protect employers and workers. Workers can contest if the system incorrectly labels them as illegal and employers are not accountable if the screening system falters.
Opponents of the screening system contend that it would take years to put it place, according to the wire service.