State lawmakers approved a comprehensive plan Wednesday that would put firms out of business in Arizona if they repeatedly hire undocumented workers.
The state will have the power to suspend a company’s business license for up to 10 days after a single violation, under the terms of the measure passed by wide margins in both the Senate and the House. A second violation within three years would mean permanent revocation of the business license.
The passage of the measure ends a three-year battle waged by Republican lawmakers to punish businesses for hiring illegal immigrants. The issue was one of the last remaining items of business the Legislature wanted to finish before it ends this year’s session.
Gov. Janet Napolitano indicated she might be willing to sign the measure, although she hadn’t yet reviewed its details. She vetoed an employer sanctions bill last year, saying it was too weak.
“I have been saying for a long time you cannot deal with the border simply by talking about troops and fences and so forth,” the governor said.
“You have to deal with the underlying labor issues.
“And you have to have a law that can be enforced on those who intentionally go around the law to hire labor illegally.”
Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, one of the state’s leading advocates for strengthening laws against illegal immigration, said he will recommend to his allies that they drop an effort to ask voters to approve a more punitive law — that is, if the governor signs the measure into law. That initiative was designed to put a firm out of business for just one violation, as long as it could be proven that the business knew it was hiring undocumented workers.
Pearce said the loss of a business license would be a fair punishment for companies whose actions damage the U.S. economy and compromise security.
“We’re also doing great damage to the honest business people” who don’t hire undocumented workers, Pearce said. But not everyone was enthusiastic about the legislation.
Sen. Barbara Leff, R-Paradise Valley, worried that a “rogue” employee in charge of hiring, acting without blessing of the business’ owners, could put a large company out of business by hiring one or two janitors who are in the country illegally.
“So we now have 1,200 people who will lose their jobs, 1,198 of them who are American citizens,” said Leff, who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce and Economic Development. “What do we tell those people who have all lost their jobs?”
But Pearce, who has been the driving force behind the legislation, said that can happen only on a second offense — and after a judge determines the firm knowingly or intentionally broke the law.
Most business groups oppose the legislation.
Jessica Pacheco, lobbyist for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said state legislators should wait for Congress to enact an immigration-reform measure.
One business group, however, supported the measure. The East Valley Chamber of Commerce Alliance took a stance that the bill was a preferable alternative to the initiative.