The country’s self-styled “toughest sheriff” made more news in Arizona the week after the midterm elections. As Stateline reports, Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio conducted a well-choreographed raid on Nunez Creative Landscaping in Phoenix and hauled off 17 undocumented workers. TV news filmed the action from start to finish. A news helicopter swarmed above the shop. Arpaio held a press conference for the morning shows. It was his fortieth raid on a workplace in the last two years, during which time he has hauled away 500 or so people.
This time, though, like almost all the other times, Arpaio said he didn’t have enough evidence to go after the business owners. The people who make the real money at Nunez Creative Landscaping are free to hire the next round of undocumented workers. So much for Arizona’s three-year-old highly touted E-Verify-based employer law. Arpaio and the morning news shows will be in work for years to come.
[O]nly two companies have ever been forced to close their doors under Arizona’s … employee verification law. The punishments in those cases were trivial: A Subway sandwich shop agreed to close on Easter and Thanksgiving, and a water park agreed to a 10-day suspension, but only after it already had gone out of business.
The Legal Arizona Workers Act may be tough, but even its supporters say it has been a disappointment. It faces plenty of opposition here in Arizona, especially among business owners and civil rights advocates.
One of the widely acknowledged and unaddressed problems is that companies have a lot more sway with lawmakers than do illegal immigrants.
The 2007 law requires companies with Arizona workers to screen new hires using E-Verify, the online tool from the Department of Homeland Security that checks the legal status of applicants. On paper, the penalties for an employer failing to comply are steep: a 10-day shutdown for the first offense and, for a second violation, the loss of a business license, what is often called the corporate “death penalty.”
Thanks to the law, Arizona now has 70,000 company sites signed up for E-Verify. Even though Arizona accounts for only one out of every 50 people in the country, it has one-sixth of the nation’s companies using E-Verify.
One of the sponsors of the law, Republican state Representative John Kavanagh, says the law has been a “toothless tiger” in that it does not give law enforcement enough tools. Specifically, Kavanagh, a former police officer, says prosecutors need subpoena power to investigate employers. The law does not give it to them. But business groups fought fiercely against that idea and could have derailed the whole bill had it remained, Kavanagh says.
Another problem is E-Verify, which is seen by many conservatives– including prominent politicians on the issue such as Colorado’s Tom Tancredo– as a kind of magic bullet against illegal immigration, when in fact it doesn’t work that well and adds complications.
As sources have explained to the Colorado Independent, E-Verify only detects on average half the people it should detect as undocumented. Worse, it doesn’t nab people looking to dodge it. Those people steal identities; they get false ID numbers that work. Indeed, some say E-Verify creates a whole new level of business in identity theft. The other thing it does, often, is misidentify as undocumented people who are documented or in the legal process of getting documented.
Colorado Republican lawmakers are making a show of getting tough in 2011 on illegal immigration. It’s an effort so far that inspires little confidence. Are they going to go after businesses and not just workers? Employers in Arizona are breaking federal and state laws whenever they hire an undocumented worker. As state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, one of the leaders of the effort here said yesterday at a GOP hearing on immigration, “What part of illegal don’t they understand?”