Tuesday, December 18, 2007

County Attorney Outlines Approach to Enforcing Employer-Sanctions Law

Website for Businesses To Go Online Tomorrow

Today, County Attorney Andrew Thomas addressed key aspects of the Legal Arizona Workers Act, the state’s so-called employer-sanctions law. The law prohibits businesses from employing illegal immigrants and provides for possible suspension or revocation of licenses for businesses that violate the law. Barring a court order to the contrary, the law will go into effect on January 1, 2008.

Thomas clarified his office’s position regarding several important questions relating to the law. He repeated his intention to enforce the law “fully but fairly.” Thomas addressed the following matters:

Timing of Investigations and a Request for Patience. Neither the County Attorney’s Office nor the Sheriff’s Office, which is assisting in enforcing the law, will commence any investigation of a Maricopa County business until the new year. Both agencies are waiting until the law goes into effect. Thomas emphasized that even when the new year begins, there likely will not be obvious and immediate signs of enforcement action by either office for some time as these potential investigations get underway. “Complex investigations of this type usually take a good deal of time,” Thomas noted. “Such investigations commonly take months or longer to complete.”

Thomas said he and the Sheriff’s Office
will not be rushed into bringing cases until their investigations are brought to a thorough conclusion.“ It has taken decades for our illegal immigration problem to grow to the current proportions,” Thomas added. “The illegal immigration problem was not created overnight and will not be solved overnight. But just as Maricopa County has led the way in the fight against human smuggling, we will likewise rise to the challenge of enforcing the employer-sanctions law. We ask for patience as this new and unique law is implemented.” Thomas also noted that this law, like the human-smuggling law, will not solve the illegal immigration problem. However, “it is an important step in addressing our border crisis.”

Information and Complaints from the Public. Both the County Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office will accept all information provided regarding employers that are allegedly not in compliance with the law. This includes anonymous complaints or information provided anonymously. Both offices currently accept anonymous information about other unlawful activity, as do all Valley police agencies. The Silent Witness hotline is an example of long-standing police reliance on anonymous information regarding potential violations of the law.

However, Thomas stressed that confidential information will not be as helpful or likely to lead to an investigation as complaints from witnesses who are willing to identify themselves and assist in an investigation. Several other county attorneys have indicated they will accept confidential information in some manner in enforcing the employer-sanctions law.

Also, Maricopa County will accept complaints via the phone or e-mail. At least one county attorney’s office is requiring complainants to visit physically the county attorney’s office in order to file a complaint. Maricopa County has concerns this requirement might impact those who have trouble physically coming in person to the county attorney’s office.

Retroactivity of the Law. The County Attorney’s Office will interpret the law as applying to businesses that hire an illegal immigrant prior to January 1, 2008, and continue that employment into 2008. That is because the law uses the word “employ,” not “hire.” The law refers to and incorporates federal employment law, which uses the same term “employ” and which applies to ongoing employment instead of the act of hiring.

Nevertheless, this language must be read in light of the fact that the legislature also encouraged
businesses to use E-Verify to obtain a presumption they have complied with the employer-sanctions law. Formerly known as the Basic Pilot/Employment Eligibility Verification Program, E-Verify is an Internetbased system that allows business to electronically verify the employment eligibility of their new hires. Through E-Verify, employers can show they made a good-faith effort to ensure a new employee is in the United States legally. Because of the way the program is set up, E-Verify can only be used to check the status of new hires and not for existing employees. Reading the E-Verify provision of the employer-sanctions law alongside the “employ” language, the County Attorney’s Office has concluded that the intent of the legislature was for prosecutors to focus on prospective violations. As a result, while Thomas would not rule out bringing action against employers for violating the law prior to 2008, the focus of his office, consistent with the language of the statute, will be to address violations by employers who hire illegal immigrants in 2008 and afterwards.

No Racial Profiling or Violations of Constitutional Rights. In enforcing the law, Thomas stated, he will not tolerate racial profiling or any other violations of the constitutional rights of either employees or employers. He also noted that people who file false and frivolous complaints simply to harass individuals or businesses will be prosecuted. “Many working-class Americans and legal immigrants are seeing their wages driven down by competing illegal immigrant labor,” said Thomas. “As time passes, citizens and legal immigrants alike will see their wages and job prospects improve so that they can provide a better life for their families. That is the true American dream.”

Website and Seminars. On Tuesday, December 18, the County Attorney’s Office will roll out a website devoted to providing businesses with information to assist with complying with the employersanctions law. This website will be found at website www.maricopacountyattorney.org/lawa. “The goal here is compliance, not ‘gotcha’,” said Thomas. “We want to assist the business community in learning about the law and complying with it.”

In addition to the website, the County Attorney’s Office will partner with the business community in holding seminars to provide information that will assist businesses in following the act. “We seek to help the vast majority of businesses that want to follow the law,” Thomas added. Further information will be given when these seminars are scheduled in early 2008.

Joint Appearance with Sheriff Arpaio. On Wednesday, December 19, Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio will appear for a joint press conference to answer additional questions from the media about their approach to enforcing the law.

For more information contact:
Mike Anthony Scerbo, Public Information Officer
(602) 506-3170 (office) or (602) 489-6913 (cell)

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