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April 2008, Volume 14, Number 2

States: Immigration

State legislatures have been flooded with bills to deal with immigration, over 600 in January-February 2008, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Meanwhile, states that have passed laws requiring their employers to use the federal E-Verify system to check new hires are finding that some legal workers are wrongly considered unauthorized.

Arizona. Arizona county attorneys on March 1, 2008 began to enforce the state's employer sanctions law after the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to issue an injunction to stop enforcement. Arizona requires employers to participate in the federal government's E-Verify system, which checks the information provided by new hires against databases of the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

By April 2008, some unauthorized foreigners were reported to be leaving Arizona, and businesses catering to them reported sharp drops in sales. Some reports emphasized that the downturn in construction was also a major factor pushing workers out of the state.

Newspapers profiled unauthorized workers whose status was discovered by E-Verify, as well as some legal workers who appeared to be unauthorized in government databases. Many of the problems with legal workers involved naturalized US citizens. Between October 2006 and March 2007, about 3,200 foreign-born US citizens were at first tagged as unauthorized by E-Verify.

About 60 percent of Arizona residents live in Maricopa County, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio has instructed deputies to detain suspected unauthorized foreigners if they are stopped for violations of state and local laws. Over 1,000 suspected unauthorized foreigners have been detained, and Arpaio said: "The more who leave, the better. They shouldn't be here in the first place."

State Representative Russell Pearce (R-Mesa), who spearheaded the package of laws (Prop 200) that denies business licenses to employers convicted of hiring unauthorized workers, announced that he may introduce a law requiring Arizona to challenge the provision of the 14th amendment that considers babies born in the US to be US citizens. Pearce is a former sheriff's deputy wounded by a gang member.

Pearce opposes an effort to create a pilot guest worker program in Arizona. A pending state bill would create a program that would allow Mexican workers to be employed in the state up to two years if employers can demonstrate they face labor shortages. The Arizona Industrial Commission, which would regulate the program, could not launch such a state guest worker program without federal approval.

More states are enacting laws requiring their employers to use E-Verify to check that new hires are legally authorized to work in the US. SB 81, signed into law in Utah in March 2008, requires public employers and public contractors to use the E-Verify system to check on the legal status of new employees beginning July 1, 2009.

S.B. 2988, signed into law in Mississippi in March 2008, requires employers to participate in E-Verify. Public agencies and private employers must enroll by July 1, 2008, and all of the state's employers must use E-Verify by July 1, 2011. Violators can lose their business licenses for one year and be barred from receiving public contracts.

Alabama, Missouri, South Carolina and Utah in Spring 2008 moved toward enactment of state laws that require employers to use E-Verify. Most of these laws include provisions similar to those of the Arizona law, that is, they allow revocation of the business licenses of employers who are found to have hired unauthorized workers a second time. E-Verify does not verify identity, so an unauthorized worker who uses the SSN of a lawful worker will not be detected.

A bill introduced in Tennessee would make it unlawful for unauthorized workers to receive payment for their work, subjecting those who receive wages to fines of up to $500 and six months in jail.

On the other hand, San Francisco in April 2008 launched an $83,000 campaign to advertise its policy of giving sanctuary to unauthorized foreigners. Mayor Gavin Newsom said the city is: "inviting people to come out of the shadows and take advantage of services."

San Francisco has been a sanctuary city since 1989, and is believed to be the first US city to advertise, in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Russian, that it does not assist federal agents to enforce immigration laws. Since 2007, San Francisco has issued ID cards to anyone who lives in the city, regardless of legal status.