State doesn't check legal status of those with business licenses

10:04 PM MST on Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) -- Although employers will have to start verifying the eligibility of their workers under Arizona's new employer-sanctions law, the state does not check the legal status of those who have business licenses.

That means it could be easier for illegal immigrants with false documents to get a business license of their own than to get hired somewhere else.

"There is no requirement in the statute that you be a citizen to run a business in Arizona," Arizona Department of Revenues spokesman Dan Zemke said. "Anybody can open a business."

Some lawmakers see an opportunity for the state to crack down on illegal immigrants. They suggest the Department of Revenue require proof of citizenship or legal residency for the 190,000 people with business licenses in the state.

They also would like to see the boards that license barbers, chiropractors, pharmacists and other professionals do the same.

While many boards are designed to protect the public from criminals or incompetent professionals, they simply haven't been directed to target citizenship or worker eligibility.

The Arizona Department of Real Estate, for example, conducts criminal background checks on its 96,000 licensees and even takes fingerprints, but it can't guarantee that immigrants with false documents don't slip through.

"There aren't any, to the best of my knowledge, but never say never," spokeswoman Mary Utley said. "It's not something we are looking for, and fraud occurs. But if they're convicted of a felony, they won't get their license."

During the last legislative session, Republican Rep. Russell Pearce sponsored a bill that would have prohibited agencies from licensing people without the proper legal status, but the measure stalled.

"You can't be employed here, but you can run a business here? It's absolutely outrageous," Pearce said.

He said he asked Gov. Janet Napolitano to issue an executive order to state licensing boards to check documents for worker eligibility, but Napolitano spokeswoman Jeanine L'Ecuyer said the issue was not a priority.

She said Congress needs to address immigration so that states aren't left to the task.

One Phoenix area salon owner who asked only to be identified as Rosie said she spent 14 years in the country as an illegal immigrant before she saved enough money to buy her business.

"There are hundreds of people who have businesses without papers," she said. "This is the only way we can make money to pay our bills. I don't ask the government for anything." ... 42cc9.html