Illegal immigration is among the top issues in the 2008 presidential election. The candidates have stated their plans for stemming the tide of illegal immigrants entering the U.S. and dealing with the large numbers currently residing in the country.
Arizona has passed a law to address the situation, a measure that may affect businesses of all kinds and sizes and cause some illegal immigrants to apply for reentry into Mexico.
The Legal Arizona Workers Act, also known as the employer-sanctions act, went into effect Jan. 1, 2008. The act specifies that employers must verify employees' legal statuses through the Department of Homeland Security's E-Verify database. Those who "knowingly" hire an illegal worker are put on probation for up to three years, and those who "intentionally" hire an illegal worker could be put on probation for up to five years. If employers are found to be in violation of the law while on probation, their licenses will be revoked.
The illegal worker also must be terminated.
Opponents argue that the law attempts to do at a state level what should be handled at a national level; fosters bigotry and a witch-hunt environment; and will be harmful to the state's economy as consumers leave the state.
Feb. 8, Fox News reported that illegal immigrants are flooding the Mexican consulate in Phoenix for documents that will allow them to return to Mexico to enroll their children in school. They also are requesting a document called "menaje de casa," which allows illegal immigrant families living in the U.S. to cross into Mexico without paying a tax on furniture and personal belongings.
A nonprofit immigrant support group reported that 30,000 illegal immigrants plan to leave Arizona sometime before March 1, when the law goes into effect.
Hotlines have been set up for citizens to report employers who hire illegals. Many law enforcement deputies have been given arrest authority by Customs and Border Protection to enforce federal immigration laws, which means that during a traffic stop, an illegal immigrant without a driver"s license ultimately could face deportation.
According to Fox News, these factors, combined with a slowing economy, are forcing many undocumented workers to consider leaving Arizona. Reportedly, illegals make up 12 percent of Arizona's work force, the highest percentage in the nation. A spokesperson for a Catholic shelter in Agua Prieta, Mexico, just south of the Arizona border, which provides food and lodging for illegal immigrants, said that for every five immigrants trying to enter the U.S. from Mexico, four are crossing back in the other direction.
For years, an argument in favor of allowing illegals to stay in the U.S. has been that they take on unskilled labor jobs most U.S. citizens would not perform. It seems this isn't necessarily true. They also may take skilled jobs when it"s difficult for employers to find skilled (or cheaper) labor.
Arizona's KTAR.com recently profiled a Phoenix metal fabrication plant in the item Employer sanctions create need for skilled workers. The article quoted the man running the plant, who said some of his workers have gone south of the border, and so has some of his business. He said he couldn't find enough skilled workers, even before the employer sanctions law took effect, and he's seen other industries experience what he is.
This fabricator also said that his company has "a relationship with a fabricator in Mexico that can take some of our overflow if we're not able to secure the workers we need."
The KTAR item received some fairly intense feedback, indicative of the strong opinions surrounding the illegal immigration issue and the U.S. economy. One reader expressed his idea about how to solve the void created by illegal workers leaving the country and the skilled labor shortage: "Before all of this started, it was please, please don"t kick out our labor force. We need these "UNSKILLED" laborers to pull weeds, dig trenches, pick oranges, mop the floors, and so on.
"Now we see that it is skilled labor. Hmm—how much can a skilled sheet-metal [worker] or other person earn per hour—$15, $20 per hour? How much were they paying the illegals to do the work & $7, $10 bucks an hour?
"If there is truly this great shortage now for "SKILLED" labor, I bet there are plenty of [prison] inmates who are re-entering life on the outside and who don't have jobs who are after all American citizens who made a mistake, who can speak English and can fill those positions and become contributing members of society again, giving them a chance to progress and become something they can be proud of, thus removing the need for tax dollars to be spent on giving them food and a place to stay and actually collecting tax dollars, which can grow our economy. How much better can a rehabilitation plan get than to help Americans?
"What? What do you say? You can't hire criminals released from jail? Oh no, but you can hire an illegal who broke the law to get into this country and more than like[ly] has stolen someone's identity and who is defrauding the government of full taxes. Hey, you know what, that makes several crimes, and here is another crime—you hired them and were aiding and abetting that criminal—so guess what; that means you, the business, are also a criminal organization.
"It might sound sarcastic, but the truth is [obvious]. Give America back to the Americans."
(After this post, the comments generally deteriorated into name-calling and garbage.)
What impact will Arizona's law have on its illegal immigrant population and the state's economy? Will the departure of illegal workers and consumers significantly affect Arizona manufacturing? Will businesses that might have been thinking of expanding to Arizona to capitalize on a cheaper labor supply go elsewhere? Undoubtedly, the rest of the nation will be keeping an eye on Arizona to see how it enforces the law and handles any consequences.