Sunday, April 27, 2008

Hiring law snares zero employers (Arizona Republic)

Hiring law snares zero employers

JJ Hensley and Craig Harris
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 27, 2008 12:00 AM

When the Legal Arizona Workers Act passed last year, it was hailed as landmark legislation that would help law enforcement crack down on employers who illegally hired "unauthorized aliens."
However, outside of Maricopa County there have been minimal complaints, with nine of the 15 county attorneys telling The Arizona Republic they have not received a single one. Meanwhile, not one civil suit has been filed against an employer.
"Is this the mouse that roared or what?" said Pinal County Attorney James Walsh, whose office has received zero formal complaints. "I don't think anyone really knows how this will operate. It's brand-new, and there is nothing to compare it to."
Supporters of the law say it's a deterrent, no matter how it's enforced. And, they say, as long as the statute is making it less comfortable for illegal immigrants to work in Arizona, it's working as intended.
The law, which took effect Jan. 1, gives the state authority to suspend or revoke the business license of any employer who knowingly hired an illegal immigrant. While county attorneys have taken complaints, they agreed to wait until March 1 to bring enforcement because of legal challenges brought by business groups.
Even though the law was upheld in federal court, there is no widespread agreement on how to enforce it. Also, the way complaints are investigated varies, and most counties were given little money from the state to implement it.
In Maricopa County, for example, more than 1,100 complaints have come in to an immigration hotline and to sheriff's deputies as County Attorney Andrew Thomas has turned enforcement over to Sheriff Joe Arpaio. His deputies have arrested and jailed eight workers based on complaints.
Critics of the law say Arpaio's employer-sanctions enforcement measures that target employees are another example of him using one law to enforce another, not unlike his department's practice of using minor traffic violations to arrest illegal immigrants and get them deported.
No other county has used the law to arrest employees, though Yavapai County has 43 active or completed employer-sanction investigations based on various police reports. But Yavapai County may end up scrapping all those investigations because nearly all deal with employees who were hired before Jan. 1.
In Pima County, the standard for filing a complaint is much higher as all must be in writing and notarized.
"We will not accept anonymous tips," Pima County Deputy Attorney Dan Jurkowitz said. "We would require some evidence that an employer was knowingly employing an unauthorized worker. It's not sufficient to say, 'I was sitting in a Chinese food restaurant, and I heard people in back speaking Chinese.' There are people who do that. But something like that would be discrimination on national origin, and we would not entertain that."

Tips handled differently
In Maricopa County, residents can make anonymous complaints about suspected illegal workers, and officials will follow up if there is evidence to warrant an investigation.
Authorities outside Maricopa County say accepting anonymous tips can poison the process and waste taxpayer dollars with false accusations, but in the Valley, county officials say it's no different than a program like Silent Witness.
"A person's race really isn't relevant to their immigration status," said Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Phil MacDonnell. "Only if it's reliable, hard information that this person is unauthorized."
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has launched five formal investigations into violations of the employer-sanctions law but so far has only arrested employees.
In March, one of those investigations led the Sheriff's Office to Roberts Tire in Chandler. Two plain-clothes detectives wandered into the shop area before an employee offered to escort them to the customer waiting area, said Julie Pace, an attorney who acted as counsel for Roberts Tire.
When the detectives produced badges and said they wanted to talk to an employee who was a lead in a stolen-car case, the manager offered to help, Pace said. But when detectives began questioning the employee, it didn't take long for questions about his identity to emerge. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested on suspicion of identity theft and forgery.
The tire company wasn't prosecuted.
"They seem to be mostly focusing on the individual," Pace said. "That is the same manner in which city police departments have been doing it in the last two years. The difference is that the Sheriff's Office is doing it from the hotline and complaints under the sanctions law."
Arpaio has said his office has not found enough evidence to hold any employers responsible but has cases in the works. All of the employees arrested were from Mexico and were involved in identity theft.
"I don't just go after illegals on the street," Arpaio said. "We do all aspects."
While Yavapai County has the second-highest number of cases, which it culled from police reports that found a suspect could be an illegal immigrant, it's holding off on prosecution until lawmakers tweak the legislation to clarify whether it applies to only employees hired after Jan. 1.
Dennis McGrane, Yavapai County's chief deputy attorney, said it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars to file a civil suit if the law is changed.
Mohave County has received eight complaints, but Chief Deputy Attorney Jace Zack also said there is no point trying to enforce a law that may be changed.
Gila County, meanwhile, says it's at a "standstill" on one investigation until it receives guidance from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, which the county says is in charge of verifying the immigration status of an employee involved in the investigation.

Counseling businesses
While Maricopa County is taking a different approach to enforcing the law, officials also are trying to reach out to businesses to counsel them on how to follow the statute without violating federal anti-discrimination laws.
MacDonnell and Tim La Sota, a special assistant county attorney, along with ICE officials, spoke to a group of assembled business administrators last month in downtown Phoenix with advice on what documents to ask for in the hiring process and when. Maricopa is the only county providing such outreach.
Employers and human-resources directors at the seminar represented grocers, technology firms and television stations that, combined, employ thousands of Arizona workers.
MacDonnell and La Sota told business leaders that the county wants to ferret out the handful of businesses that are purposefully hiring illegal workers. "Our goal is not to play 'gotcha,' not to make trophies of businesses," MacDonnell told the group.
County attorneys, meanwhile, have limited resources to implement the law.
The state allocated $2.43 million for the 2007-08 fiscal year for the state's 15 counties to enforce the law, with $1.43 million going to Maricopa County and $500,000 going to Pima County. Pinal County received about $93,000, which wasn't even enough to hire another lawyer to prosecute cases.
"We have used it for some educational work, but we haven't hired anyone with the money we got," said Walsh, the Pinal County attorney. "But even if we got someone started, the $93,000 will go away at the end of the year and we are not going to get any money. I don't know if the Legislature ever heard this term, but unfunded mandates is what the feds do to them."

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