GOP ballot measure to harshly punish businesses for hiring undocumented workers clears House

Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Arizona voters might get the chance to decide in November whether to expand the use of E-Verify to keep undocumented immigrants out of the construction industry and away from public assistance programs. 

The Republican-backed proposal builds on a 2007 law that mandated the use of E-Verify across most of the state’s business sectors. The only exceptions to the 2007 law were independent contractors, such as entrepreneurs, and sub-contractors, including engineers, construction, landscaping and roofing professionals. 

The new version in House Concurrent Resolution 2060 eliminates those exceptions, allowing only contractors and subcontractors who make less than $600 a year to avoid having their legal status confirmed via the federal online database. Employers who don’t do so would face up to $10,000 in fines for every undocumented employee found and a class 6 felony charge. 

State-issued licenses and state funded public assistance programs would also be required to verify the citizenship status of all applicants through the system. 

In 2007, the business community vehemently opposed the Arizona Legal Workers Act but this year, despite the near-certain threat of the resolution ending up on the November ballot, Arizona businesses have been virtually silent on the proposed ballot measure. 

No businesses and none of dozens of business advocacy groups have opposed the legislation, and none showed up during the proposal’s widely publicized hearing to speak against it. The only business group to formally register any position on the proposal is the Arizona Retailers Association, which signed up as neutral. 

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce, Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Arizona Farm Bureau Federation, Arizona Landscape Contractors Association and the Arizona Roofing Contractors Association — all of which helped lead a lawsuit against the 2007 law — were unable to offer a comment on this year’s measure, despite multiple requests for information.  

Opposition to the resolution has instead been taken up by immigrant advocacy organizations and Democratic lawmakers. 

On Thursday, Democrats in the state House of Representatives sounded the alarm over the legislation, which was introduced by the GOP leader of the chamber and was swiftly pushed through by Republicans. The resolution needs only win a majority vote in both legislative chambers, which are controlled by Republicans, before being sent to the November ballot. Gov. Katie Hobbs won’t be able to stop it with her veto stamp. 

Rep. Analise Ortiz, D-Phoenix, warned that the proposal would have a detrimental effect on Arizona businesses by cutting off access to a sorely needed pool of employees amid the state’s labor force shortage. Ortiz dismissed claims that immigrants are taking away jobs from citizens — an often repeated justification from Republican lawmakers — by citing statistics from the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that found the state’s undocumented workforce has remained stable since 2017, and makes up only 5.4% of Arizona’s total labor market. 

Instead, Ortiz said, the measure serves only to threaten Arizona’s immigrant communities, in the style of SB1070, the “show me your papers law” from 2010 to which critics attributed a rise in racial profiling. 

“This bill, let’s make no mistake, is intended to create fear in our communities and among mixed status families,” Ortiz said. 

SB1070 has been repeatedly referenced by Democratic lawmakers as a way to illustrate the possible impact of a package of GOP anti-immigrant proposals introduced this year, which include several bills that seek to criminalize migrants crossing the southern border. And, on Thursday, Republican lawmakers sought to shut down any mentions of the 2010 law during floor debate. 

Rep. Mariana Sandoval, D-Goodyear, who attempted to use SB1070 to theorize about the resolution’s potential impacts on the state’s economy, was interrupted and told to keep her comments on the proposal at hand. 

“The motion on the board is HCR2060, not a law that passed 15 years ago,” argued Rep. Neal Carter, R-San Tan Valley, when using a procedural move to stop Sandoval.  

Rep. Cesar Aguilar invoked the law and its political aftermath, which resulted in a new wave of Latinos being elected to public office, as a warning to Republican lawmakers that they would “regret” passing the resolution, saying it would inspire a new generation of Latinos to get involved. 

The Phoenix Democrat denounced the proposal as “racist”, causing an uproar among Republican lawmakers, who accused him of “impugning” the motives of the bill sponsor. That prompted Rep. Travis Grantham, the Gilbert Republican who was overseeing floor debate, to shut down discussion of the measure, allowing only party leaders to give final remarks. 

House Minority Leader Lupe Contreras called the resolution “problematic”. The Democrat from Avondale said that several members of the Arizona business community had reached out privately to discuss their concerns and asked Democrats to oppose the legislation, despite the fact that, traditionally, business leaders appeal to Republican lawmakers. 

Contreras criticized the numerous resolutions being passed through the House this session, saying that Republicans were abusing the practice to circumvent Hobbs’ veto and warning that it would only burden voters with overly long ballots in November. He urged GOP lawmakers to focus on creating solutions that help Arizonans instead of championing measures that advance political grandstanding during the election year. 

”We all should be doing things for the right reasons, for Arizona,” Contreras said. “For the people, for the business community, and everybody at large. That’s what we should be doing right now. Let’s stop the rhetoric. “

House Speaker Ben Toma, who is vying for a seat in Congress in the state’s ruby red eighth district, said the resolution, which he authored, responds to voter concerns. Immigration and border security have emerged as top priorities ahead of the 2024 election, particularly for GOP  voters, even in states as far away from the US-Mexico border as New Hampshire

Toma added that he was committed to working with the business community and Arizona residents to address issues with the proposal as it moves through the Senate. But claims that it is inherently racist are a nonstarter with the Republican from Glendale, who is originally from Romania. 

“I’m an immigrant, I resent my bill being called racist and, by extension, myself being called racist,” he said. “Immigrants can be of any color, of any background, of any gender.” 

The majority of immigrants in Arizona, and those who would most likely be affected by the resolution if voters were to approve it, are Hispanic. A 2022 study from the Migration Institute estimated that as much as 61% of all immigrants in the Grand Canyon State are from Latin American countries, including Mexico, South and Central America and the Caribbean. 

The resolution was approved in the state House of Representatives by a vote of 31-28, with only Democrats in opposition.

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