Bills Worry Migrants, Employers
2 would penalize businesses, add armed volunteers
Elvia Díaz, The Arizona Republic, Feb. 18
A flurry of bills designed to crack down on illegal immigration in Arizona could penalize many Valley employers and recruit armed volunteers to patrol the state’s border with Mexico.
The measures would achieve a dual purpose: checking the flow of undocumented workers while saving the lives of those who lost their way in the Sonoran Desert.
House Bill 2448 could have the biggest impact on the Valley. It would suspend the business licenses or permits of employers who hired undocumented workers, potentially decreasing the pool of workers available for many low-paying jobs. It easily passed the House Commerce Committee on Monday, with support from both Republicans and Democrats.
However, some immigrants and business owners expressed doubts Tuesday about the value of the legislation.
Estevan Vargas, who goes to the day-labor center in northeast Phoenix every day to wait for prospective employers, said he could be out of work if the bill is signed into law.
“There is no other way for me to earn money and send it back to my family in Mexico,” said Vargas, 52, who came to Phoenix about five months ago. “Taking my job away would be like taking food away from me and my family.”
Business owners who on Friday picked up workers from the day-labor center declined to be identified but said they oppose House Bill 2448 because their livelihoods are at stake. They rely on undocumented immigrants to do everything from landscaping to construction and roofing.
“It would be the equivalent of a death sentence,” said Farrell A. Quinlan, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, speaking of the bill’s potential effect on his business. “Employers are walking a tightrope as they try to comply with federal law.”
Another measure, House Bill 2652, would set up groups of armed volunteers to patrol Arizona’s border with Mexico, with the goal of helping people who became stranded in the desert north of the border.
“I don’t want Mexicans to come across the border,” said Rep. Ray Barnes, R-Phoenix, the bill’s sponsor. “But I don’t want them getting killed, either.”
Fear for lives
But some immigrants say the establishment of armed volunteers could put their lives in danger.
“It would be easy for these people to shoot us,” said Javier Estrada, 35, an undocumented worker who has crossed the border illegally at least 13 times during the past decade. “They could simply say they confused us with animals. It would be very intimidating.”
Many immigrants’ groups and their advocates are expected to rally around Senate Bill 1281, which would allow Arizona to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented workers. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Peter Rios, D-Hayden, is considered essential to workers’ ability to get to and from jobs in metropolitan Phoenix.
A Senate committee considered the measure Tuesday but took no action. Opposition is expected from Republican lawmakers who consider the measure a step in the wrong direction.
Other measures being considered by lawmakers include:
• House Bill 2173, which targets “coyotes,” who smuggle immigrants into the United States.
• House Bill 2392, which would require undocumented students attending Arizona colleges and universities to pay out-of-state tuition.
• House Bill 1345, which calls for felony charges against undocumented workers who carry a firearm.
The overall goal of the measures, some lawmakers said, is to protect those risking their lives to come to this country while toughening penalties for those who smuggle them across the border or give them a job once they get here.
But immigrants, who are often caught between feuding smugglers and abusive employers looking for cheap labor, said they would rather take their chances without the new legislation.
Unlike previous years, lawmakers appear to be making headway with the help of some unlikely allies: Democrats who believe employers should share the responsibility for an influx of undocumented workers.
“Immigrants have always been the scapegoats,” said Rep. Robert Meza, D-Phoenix, who on Monday voted for HB 2448.
“Employers are the root of the immigration problem.”
The citizens group would be under the auspices of the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
Members would alert immigration authorities if they spotted anyone attempting to cross the border.
Barnes said the legislation is also aimed at helping property owners who are frustrated by immigrants trashing their properties as the border crossers make their trek north of the border.
“I’m trying to stop people from getting hurt,” said Barnes, adding that property owners often are taking matters into their own hands. “People are upset and want to protect their property.”
Felipe Juarez, 21, who came from the Mexican state of Puebla five years ago, said that he is constantly afraid of losing his job at a Valley restaurant and that the proposed laws targeting employers would make it worse.
“I don’t know what would I do if I can’t work,” Juarez said. “My job is all I have.”
Juarez is urging lawmakers to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license.
“They don’t seem to understand that I will keep driving with or without a driver’s license,” Juarez said.