Sanctions Law Debuts Quietly; Long-Term Impact Uncertain

Sanctions law debuts quietly; long-term impact uncertain

Ronald J. Hansen
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 3, 2008 12:00 AM

Two days into the new year, prosecutors and law-enforcement officials around the state said the public has largely greeted the employer-sanctions law with a collective shrug.

Few people called or filed written complaints Wednesday on the first business day under the law, which threatens to suspend or revoke business licenses from companies that knowingly employ illegal immigrants.

“We've had half a dozen calls. We haven't exactly been inundated, but it's still early,” said Steve Wilson, a spokesman for the Arizona attorney general.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said his office had received 18 calls about employers of illegal workers in the past three days, about the usual tally. More people, 47 of them, called to complain of suspected illegal immigrants living nearby, he said.

At the same time, whatever impact the law has had on businesses seemed difficult to gauge Wednesday.

Ann Seiden of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a group that opposes the law, said she could not point to any sudden problems for businesses already operating in the state.

“I think a lot of the hardships started awhile ago,” she said.

Businesses now must use E-Verify, a free federal online program to verify the employment eligibility of new hires. Learning that process takes time and money, business owners have said. Also, businesses could be punished for continuing to employ existing workers who are illegal immigrants, a fact that sent many employers checking paperwork, too.

“We're going to be careful and very professional,” said Arpaio, who has made immigration enforcement a central focus of his department for two years. “We're going to continue to enforce all aspects of immigration laws.”

Instead, he expects his deputies will look into whether suspected violators have other immigration- or crime-related problems, as well, Arpaio said.

The slow beginning for law enforcers was not unexpected.

Last month, prosecutors, who are battling a lawsuit seeking to strike down the law, promised they would not bring any sanctions-related enforcement actions before Feb. 1. That's because it would take weeks to investigate any complaints, the prosecutors said. Also, it was unclear how many complaints any agency could expect to receive.

Greenlee County Attorney Derek Rapier said people in his county seem to remain uninterested in the law, which has generated two federal lawsuits and national media attention.

“We have not had any calls or any inquiries,” he said. “In the last six months, I've had one person talk to me about this issue at all.”

Officials in Pima and Yavapai counties said there were no public complaints by Wednesday afternoon.

The only notable interest in the law came from a business wanting to know if there would be any amnesty period for employers, said Amelia Craig Cramer, Pima County chief deputy county attorney. There isn't, she added.