Arizona lawmakers drop employer mandates to win support for border measure (2024)

Howard Fischer

PHOENIX — Senate Republican leaders were lining up the votes Thursday to send changes in laws on border and immigration policies to the ballot after they agreed to further dilute provisions governing employers.

As originally written, House Concurrent Resolution 2060 included stiff penalties for companies not following existing laws requiring them to verify that those they hire are in this country legally.

It would have required the attorney general or county attorney to investigate an employer’s failure to verify someone’s eligibility to work in the U.S., including through mandatory use of the E-Verify program run by the U.S. Homeland Security Department. It carried civil penalties of up to $10,000 a day.

That was removed earlier this week by the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, Public Safety and Border Security.

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Replacing it is wording to instead focus on job applicants. It would make it a Class 6 felony, punishable by a year in state prison, for anyone not lawfully present to submit false information or documents to an employer to evade detection under E-Verify.

As it turns out, those changes were insufficient. To secure passage, language was needed to ensure nothing in HCR 2060 would impose any additional burdens on employers, said Senate President Warren Petersen.

“We wanted to make sure it lined up with existing law,’’ said the Gilbert Republican. “Someone had a concern that it didn’t line up exactly. So, we’re just clarifying that it lines up.’’

However, that replacement provision, going after job applicants, also was causing some heartburn.

Sen. Ken Bennett said he understands the reason to deter people from submitting false papers to employers.

But the Prescott Republican questioned the idea of making it a felony, with the possibility of prison time, on someone who just was looking for work, even albeit illegally.

He also pointed out that it is at odds with much of the rest of the legislation, which would make it illegal to enter the country other than at a port of entry. That, Bennett noted, would be a misdemeanor, which not only carries a lesser penalty but also may be a lower priority for county prosecutors.

Aside from lining up GOP legislative votes, making sure nothing in the measure increases the burdens or penalties on businesses also could keep the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry out of the fray, not just now at the Capitol but when the measure goes to voters in November.

“We were big on stopping the original bill,’’ said Danny Seiden, the chamber’s president and chief executive officer.

What’s left, he told Capitol Media Services, no longer has any employment verification requirements that are different than the current law. And now, Seiden said, it will be up to the board whether to take a position, if not on employment verification then on the publicity the law could generate about Arizona.

While the chamber is sitting on the sidelines, that’s not the case with Greater Phoenix Leadership. That organization, composed of chief executive officers of business and educational operations, released a statement Thursday calling the measure “an unworkable response to a federal problem with unknown consequences.’’

“This measure places an unfunded mandate on local law enforcement to enforce border policy and lacks the infrastructure needed to assume the federal responsibility of apprehension and detention,’’ said a statement posted on the organization’s website. “Further, the ballot referral poses a policy that lacks clarity on how it will be implemented at the border and throughout the state.’’

While GOP leaders were looking to line up the votes to satisfy their own members and blunt business opposition, they also jettisoned something Democrats said would make the other major part of the bill — arrest of migrants — at least marginally more acceptable to them.

Those provisions were originally part of SB 1231, a bill Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed earlier this year, which said state and local police could arrest those who enter Arizona from Mexico at any place other than a port of entry. That’s aimed largely at the crowds of migrants who have come through gaps and holes in the border fence and wall and then immediately presented themselves to Border Patrol and asked for asylum.

The asylum request alone provides an opportunity for people to stay without running afoul of federal laws. But the overburdened system can mean hearings on asylum requests often are not set for years.

In her veto, Hobbs said border security is a federal problem. And other Democrats said they feared it would lead to racial profiling as police are more likely to look for Hispanics.

But SB 1291 did have a provision designed to blunt concerns its provisions would provoke fear among migrants.

It specifically barred police from enforcing the law if someone was on the grounds of a public or private school, college or university. Also off limits would be arrests at churches, synagogues or other established places of worship. And people could not be taken into custody if they were seeking treatment at a health care facility.

All that is gone. “That’s not needed,’’ Petersen told Capitol Media Services.

“This is just border enforcement at the border,’’ the Senate president said. “So there’s no situation that anybody would need to go into any of those things.’’

Democrats remain unconvinced.

They said there is nothing in the legislation that limits enforcement to just the border. They said there also are no provisions to spell out that the law does not apply statewide.

The measure drew new opposition Thursday from three county attorneys who represent the border area.

“This striker (bill) is facially unconstitutional,’’ wrote Republican Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre to other county attorneys and sheriffs around the state. “The criminal provisions are unenforceable, bad public policy, and embarrassing for the state.’’

In his own comment, Yuma County Attorney Jon Smith said federal leadership in dealing with border issues “has been lacking, at best, over the last two or so decades.’’ But the Democrat said this measure is not the answer because it places the financial burden on local agencies.

Democratic Pima County Attorney Laura Conover pointed to what happened in 2010 when Arizona lawmakers approved SB 1070. It was designed to give police the power to question people they stopped about their immigration status and detain them.

“I watched public safety take a hit, I watched major economic fallout, I watched national embarrassment, and I watched brain drain out of the University (of Arizona) main and law campuses,’’ Conover wrote in her statement.

“Now, as Pima’s top law enforcement official, I need all of our neighborhoods to trust our police and to participate as victims and witnesses in holding accountable those who would do us harm,’’ she said. “When it comes to HCR 2060, I hope wisdom prevails.’’

Howard Fischer is a veteran journalist who has been reporting since 1970 and covering state politics and the Legislature since 1982. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, and Threads at @azcapmedia or email azcapmedia@gmail.com.

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Howard Fischer

Arizona lawmakers drop employer mandates to win support for border measure (2024)
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