PHOENIX – Beginning in January, employers in Arizona could face having their business licenses suspended or revoked if they get caught hiring illegal immigrants.
A new law signed Monday by Gov. Janet Napolitano created the state crime of hiring illegal immigrants and requires all businesses to verify the employment eligibility of workers through a federal database.
It's intended to remove the economic incentive for immigrants to sneak across the border and help lessen Arizona's role as the busiest illegal gateway into the nation.
The Democratic governor said she signed the bill because the federal government has failed to overhaul the country's broken immigration policies, though she believes the new law contains flaws that should be fixed.
"I signed it, too, out of the realization that the flow of illegal immigration into our state is due to the constant demand of some employers for cheap, undocumented labor," Napolitano wrote in a letter to lawmakers.
The law should have provided exceptions for hospitals, nursing homes and power plants to prevent them from closing as a result of violations, Napolitano said.
It also lacks an anti-discrimination clause to ensure fair enforcement, and its overly broad punishments could lead to the closure of multiple locations of a business based on a violation at a single location, Napolitano said.
Advocates for tougher border enforcement said state punishments were needed becausident of the Arizona Contractors Association, said the state is trying to turn employers into de facto immigration agents and that the new law could have adverse effects on certain businesses, such as car washes and farming operations.
"If it remains in effect (a year from now), then the economic engines of Arizona will come to a slow grind," Jones said.
Last year, Napolitano vetoed an immigration bill that included employer sanctions. She said it would have given amnesty to employers because businesses that heed warnings to stop illegal hirings could have continued operating as if nothing happened.
As the Legislature was crafting this year's employer sanctions bill, advocates for tougher immigration enforcement began an effort to bring a stricter employer sanctions proposal to voters next year.
Under the proposed ballot measure, first-time violators would face the permanent revocation of their business licenses.
Pearce, a leader in the effort to bring such a measure to the ballot, said he and other supporters would likely continue to push as a way to head off attempts at weakening the new law.