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Like immigrants, the businesses that employ them are under pressure - or at least to efforts to apply pressure.
Business owners in Arizona could be facing the nation's harshest law against employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
But right now, NPR's Ted Robbins reports they're facing confusion.
TED ROBBINS: If you're a business owner in Arizona, like drywall contractor Bill Valenzuela, here's what you're looking at for the end of the year.
Mr. BILL VALENZUELA (Owner, WG Valenzuela Drywall Inc.): Collecting the money to make payroll, filling out all the records for IRS for the city, for the colony and that's going to be a state law.
ROBBINS: Maybe, if a federal judge allows Arizona's employer's sanction law to take effect January 1st. Anyone who knowingly who hires a worker who's in the country illegally will have their business license suspended. A second offense and the license is revoked. That's a far stiffer penalty than the rarely imposed federal fines for similar offenses.
Bill Valenzuela says the legislators who thought up the law haven't run a business.
Mr. VALENZUELA: What experience do those people have that are passing their laws in Phoenix, have they given it a thought? Have they lived it?
State Senator TIM BEE (Republican, Tucson, Arizona; Majority Leader, Arizona State Senate): There's a lot of uncertainty because this is unprecedented, but it's very basic.
ROBBINS: Tim Bee is president of the Arizona State Senate. He says Arizona voters want stronger work place enforcement, and he claims the law will be simple for employers to follow.
State Sen. BEE: The problem before a business comes in is one, if they accept documents for an employee and they know that those documents are fraudulent. If they have an employee that - or an applicant that comes that has no documentations and they send that applicant to get documentation, then they could be accused of intentionally hiring employees.
ROBBINS: Bee says all employers have to do is file the standard federal forms and check a job applicant's documents against the federal government's basic pilot or e-verify program - that's an online database that tells an employer whether a Social Security card or a work permit is valid.
The problem is e-verify is a voluntary pilot program. The government is still working out the kinks, but the Arizona law makes participation mandatory.
Ms. JULIE PACE (Lawyer): We have 140,000 companies in Arizona. Every time they hire someone, they have to go to this procedure, and it was never meant to be mandatory.
ROBBINS: Julie Pace is a Phoenix attorney who represents 12 major business groups opposing the law. Contractors, farmers, hotel owners, state and local chambers of commerce, they sued to stop the law from taking effect arguing that it's unconstitutional because only the federal government can make immigration law. Plus, the business groups claim the law is having economic consequences even before it takes effect.
Ms. PACE: People are concerned about starting businesses in Arizona. We've already seen a loss of companies coming here. They're shutting down or they're not - they are taking their money. They are going to different states to open their businesses.
ROBBINS: State legislators and Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano say they passed and signed the law because it's what voters want. State Senate President Tim Bee also admits they passed it to avoid an even more restrictive ballot initiative that anti-immigration activists were gathering signatures for.
State Sen. BEE: It passed by the - at the ballot, legislators are restricted for making any changes to that. And since this is kind of cutting edge to the legislation of the country, we wanted to keep it within the realm of the legislators so that we can continue to work on it.
ROBBINS: In other words, even Arizona legislators and the state governor admit the employer sanction law has problems. They have vowed to revise it during the next session, whether or not a federal judge in Phoenix lets it take effect on New Year's Day. He could rule as early as next week.
Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.
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