The Jan. 1 enactment of the Legal Arizona Workers Act (HB 2779) could have a far-reaching effect across the nation.



The new employer-sanction law is intended to ensure that no Arizona business knowingly or intentionally hires or employs illegal immigrants, beginning Jan. 1. Those businesses that are caught hiring illegal immigrants risk losing their state and local licences. First offense violations can result in the business having its license suspended for 10 days or longer. Further violations can result in permanent closure.



The law applies to every business owner in Arizona — regardless of size. It does treat each business location or franchise as a separate entity, which means if one is in violation, the others are not affected. However, for those companies which operate as a corporate entity and share business licenses for tax or legal reasons, if one location is in violation, all will be impacted.



Arizona’s 15 county attorneys will be responsible for enforcing the sanction law. Although undocumented workers are not “punished” under the law, it does require state authorities to contact federal immigration officials, who could then choose to prosecute or deport the person.



Additionally, Arizona has stiffened the penalties for identity theft, making it an aggravated, class 3 felony to assume the identity of another person — real or fictional — or use any personal identifying information.



According to a 2007 study by the Pew Hispanic Center, while Hispanics are the largest minority group in the United States, accounting for 47 million or 15.5 percent of the U.S. population, research by the group found that one-fourth are here illegally. An estimated 5 percent of the illegal Hispanics live in Arizona.



Legal Challenges



Already, a federal judge has dismissed one lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality. In his ruling, Federal District Court Judge Neil Wake said the plaintiffs, consisting of a coalition of businesses and immigration groups, improperly filed against the State of Arizona, which is not ultimately responsible for the upholding.



A second lawsuit was subsequently filed on Dec. 12, naming the 15 responsible counties as defendants. Among other things, the lawsuit claims the Act preempts federal immigration law and “deprives employers and workers of liberty and property without due process of law.”



National Impact



The number of states enacting immigration reform laws continues to grow. One of the more recent was Oklahoma, which last May passed HB 1804, The Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2007, denying illegal immigrants state identification and requiring all state and local agencies to verify the citizenship status of applicants before authorizing benefits. The law also requires employers to verify the legal status of job applicants through E-Verify, an electronic database operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration.



Meanwhile, opponents to illegal immigration reform laws continue to raise a cry about the social and economic ramifications of denying these people the rights afforded to legal citizens.



While acknowledging the ramifications, I admit I’m in favor of these laws. I am biased, though, knowing that my grandparents took the steps to come to this country legally after leaving a war-torn Europe.



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