The 28 suspected illegal immigrants recently arrested at Mesa's Alpine Valley Breads may have used stolen Social Security numbers and fake driver's licenses to get jobs there. But Maricopa County helped pave the way for their employment by giving each a food-handler's card - without checking to see if they were legal U.S. residents.
And that was OK. It wasn't until July 20, six days after the raid, that a new law - HB 2102 - took effect requiring any agency or political subdivision of the state issuing licenses to require proof of legal residence.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Scottsdale, sponsored the law to prevent identity theft and illegal immigration after experiencing what he described as "a rude awakening" when he applied to get his own food handler card from the county. He needed the card so he could serve food as a volunteer at the Fountain Hills Arts Festival and the Great Fairs festival.
"When I was in the class at Environmental Services to get my food handler card, they passed a list around and said, ‘Put your name on it.' And that was it," Kavanagh said. "I said, ‘How do you know I'm John Kavanagh?' and they replied, ‘We don't.'"
"I was shocked, very shocked," Kavanagh added. "It was basically unverified license-issuing by the government. Who wouldn't think a law like this wouldn't already be in place and that we'd need one?"
Now, the new law requires people seeking licenses from any agency to provide specific forms of identification that prove they are living in the U.S. legally. Among the forms of ID required: an Arizona driver's License issued after 1996, a birth certificate, a U.S. passport or an I-94 form with a photograph.
Applicants also must pay $15 to take a class and pass a test to obtain their food handler's card. The cards contain language that says "not a valid ID" and "not a county employee."
Although all employers - public and private - have been required to use the E-Verify system to check if an applicant's Social Security number and birthday matches the information they provide to their prospective employer, agencies like the county's Environmental Health Services did not use E-Verify.
"Before the law, there were no requirements to show legal presence in the U.S.," said Johnny Dilone, a spokesman for Maricopa County Environmental Health Services under the county Health Department. "People applying for their food handler card had to provide some type of identification, but not necessarily one that showed they were a legal U.S. citizen."
The county issued thousands of cards each year, creating somewhat of a double standard: Employers that hired illegal immigrants could be cited for violating the Employer Sanction Act, but the county office that issued licenses to them in the first place faced no penalty.
Todd Wood, owner of Alpine Valley, said he has no problem with Sheriff Joe Arpaio coming into his business, and he's glad Arpaio is helping to enforce immigration laws.
"We have nothing to hide," Wood said. "When it comes to hiring practices, we follow the law. As a businessman, we do everything in our power to comply with federal and state hiring practices. We follow the government's rules. We have used E-Verify since its inception in 2008 to check to see if our applicants are eligible to work in the U.S, and we check their references."
But Wood said he was not aware that the county department which issues the food holder's cards did not use E-Verify.
"The county issues the cards, but they still have problems with the people we hire," Wood said. "We believe in obeying, honoring and sustaining all the laws of the land so these things don't happen."
When Alpine Bread started using E-Verify at the beginning of 2008, the system rejected one of 15 applicants, reporting they were ineligible to work in the U.S., a 7 percent error rate. Today, when Alpine screens applicants through E-Verify, the system rejects one out of 30 applicants, reducing the error rate to 3 percent, Wood said.
However, many of the people arrested this month were workers employed by Alpine prior to 2008, so they were not E-verified at the time of their hire, Wood said.
"We're not allowed to E-verify anyone hired prior to 2008," Wood said.
After receiving a food handler's card from the Department of Environmental Services, applicants at Alpine have to pass a drug test, a $20 cost they pay for, and must also pass background checks, Wood said.
It wasn't immediately known how many of those arrested are illegal immigrants and now have detainers placed on them from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Although a number of the 28 workers who were arrested wanted to return to work, Wood said under the advisement of his legal counsel, he did not re-employ them.
During the raid, the bakery, which employs about 120, was closed for about an hour and a half. There was no monetary loss to the business with only a small interruption to production, according to Wood.
A sign now taped on the inside of the front door to the bakery simply says, "No Positions Available." Wood said that automated bread-making machines have allowed the business to be able to move forward without having to replace the 28 people who were detained by Arpaio.
"We didn't miss a heartbeat," Wood said.