Published: 06.20.2007
Penalties for firms that hire illegal immigrants on way to governor's desk
The Associated Press

Arizona legislators approved, some reluctantly, a bill to punish employers who hire illegal immigrants by suspending or revoking their government licenses, a step that would put violators out of business at least temporarily.
Passage of the bill sent it to Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and capped a three-year push on the issue, a top priority issue for Republican majority lawmakers during the current session. The session itself appeared near ending.
The House and Senate approved a compromise drafted earlier Wednesday by a conference committee appointed to iron out differences in versions of the bill approved previously by the two chambers. The House vote was 47-11. The Senate's was 20-4.
Members of the conference committee said they hoped to head off a proposed ballot measure with stricter sanctions also targeting businesses' licenses issued by state and local governments.
Under the bill (HB2779), first-time offenders who knowingly hire illegal immigrants would be put on probation for three years, have to file quarterly reports on hirings and could have their licenses suspended for up to 10 days. However, those employers whose actions involved active steps to circumvent the ban on illegal hirings would face license suspensions for at least 10 days.
While second-time offenders would have their licenses permanently revoked, just suspensions would be enough to kill some businesses, lawmakers said.
Advocates for tougher border enforcement contend that the state needs to impose employer sanctions were needed because the federal government has failed to adequately enforce a federal law that already prohibits employers from intentionally hiring illegal immigrants.
"The public is tired of waiting," said Republican Rep. Russell Pearce of Mesa, the measure's chief legislative champion. "The problem is every day we don't act on this, we're hurting Arizona. We're hurting the honest businesses."
Critics said they feared enactment of the bill would damage the state's business climate.
Hundreds or even thousands of U.S. citizens could lose their jobs if businesses are shut down because of sanctions imposed as a result of a "rogue" human resources director who hires illegal immigrants, said Sen. Barbara Leff, R-Paradise Valley.
"Arizona citizens will be out of work," she said.
Yet Leff, one of the conference committee members, supported the compromise as an alternative to the initiative. It would require permanent license revocations on first offenses.
"We are held hostage," Leff said.
Jessica Pacheco, a lobbyist for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, urged legislators to reject the bill.
"We think addressing employer sanctions at the state level is a mistake. We believe it will be very harmful to the Arizona business climate and we'd like to see this issue addressed at the federal level," Pacheco said.
Pearce, one of the backers of the proposed ballot measure, said he'd recommend to other supporters that the initiative campaign be dropped if the bill is enacted and is shown to be effective. He also said he'd be willing to work with fellow lawmakers to improve the bill if problems surface after it becomes law.
Earlier Wednesday, Napolitano did not stake out a position on the bill when she asked about it during her weekly availability with reporters.
However, Napolitano said she would look at it "with great interest" because addressing border and illegal immigration concerns includes dealing with "underlying labor issue."
The governor noted that she vetoed a 2006 sanctions bill on grounds that it amounted to amnesty for employers. "I think employers who intentionally avoid the law need to be paying sanctions and fines and the rest, so let's see what they send me," said Napolitano, referring to legislators.