Hoping to kill new restrictions, the state’s largest business organization is crafting a policy calling for legalizing the status of 10 million or more people who have crossed into this country illegally.
The move comes as the state House of Representatives is to debate whether to penalize businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Arizona Chamber of Commerce spokesman Farrell Quinlan acknowledged his organization hopes the policy, though it has no force of law, will undermine support for the bill to penalize businesses.
At this point, the chamber’s best hope rests not with House Republicans who generally support business interests but with Democrats who hold the necessary votes to either advance or kill legislation that could put errant companies out of business. That is because many Republicans back HB2595 despite the chamber’s opposition.
The chamber also wants to maintain a supply of workers for the economy while keeping the state out of the business of enforcing immigration laws.
At issue is the proposal by Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, to impose penalties on any employer found to have violated federal immigration laws. These carry their own penalties, ranging from fines to prison terms for employers that have a pattern of violating the statute.
Pearce’s legislation would impose what amounts to a warning for any firm found guilty of a single violation.
A second offense would result in a six-month suspension of any state license, certification, permit or charter. And a third offense would mean permanent revocation.
The chamber’s board is set to vote on the policy Friday, just days before Pearce’s bill would come to the House floor. But Quinlan said the plan has been in the works since last summer.
The policy got a push with the crafting of the Protect Arizona Now initiative which aims to reduce illegal border crossings by denying public services to those who are not citizens or legal residents, a plan the chamber opposes. But the group likes the January proposal by President Bush for a new guest worker program.
But the timing of chamber action is crucial for Democrats who had provided the votes to get the measure out of its first committee.
"We passed it out . . . to get the chamber to sit down and have a serious talk about their positions on immigration," said House Minority Leader John Loredo, D-Phoenix. "We have done that and we are confident that they are moving in the right direction," Loredo continued. He called the chamber’s positions on immigration "very favorable."
A key point of the chamber policy is saying the United States should not try to deport those already here.
Instead the draft policy says these people should be identified and registered.
"They need to be brought in from out of the shadows," Quinlan said.