From DesertSun.com, Nicole C. Brambila, 26 May 2011.
The Arizona law U.S. Supreme Court justices upheld Thursday would devastate Coachella Valley businesses if enacted here, some local employers said.
Intended to stem the flow of undocumented immigrants streaming into Arizona, it requires businesses to use a federal database to verify worker eligibility.
California and federal law do not require businesses to use the database, called E-verify, to check workers’ information against Social Security records.
Many employers do an informal check. Verifying documents would hamstring them with extra administrative work, said Nick Bozick, president and CEO of the produce company Richard Bagdasarian in Mecca.
“We’re not bouncers with a black light,” he said. “If they look legitimate, we take them.”
An estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States.
Of them, 25 percent of workers in farming, 17 percent in construction and 12 percent in hospitality were unauthorized, according to a 2009 Pew Hispanic Center estimate.
Farming, construction and hospitality are all key valley industries. Agribusiness alone, which is second only to tourism, is a nearly $500 million industry in the valley.
“It would have a significant impact on the food supply, if we did (check),” Bozick said. “Your food supply would get cut in half.”
While the state does not require it, eight California cities have passed laws requiring employers use E-Verify.
Half of them are in Riverside County — Lake Elsinore, Menifee, Murrieta and Temecula.
In the Coachella Valley, 59 businesses use E-verify, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, among the groups that backed Arizona at the court, termed the ruling “a road map” for states that want “to protect their borders and citizens.”
The Federation for American Immigration Reform also said it hoped state legislatures would move on new restrictions.
Local business owners say it’s doubtful, given the Democratic- controlled state Legislature, that a similar law would be enacted in California.
Lee Morcus, president of Kaiser Restaurant Group and the son of Lebanese immigrants, said the ruling only serves to highlight the utter failure of Congress to address the nation’s broken immigration laws.
“I hate to use the word ‘illegal’ because there’s nothing illegal about the American dream,” Morcus said.
Bozick and Morcus support a guest worker program.
“Unfortunately, the AgJobs bills have been held up for border security,” Bozick said. “I’m all for border security, but I think that those two are not related directly and should not be tied together.
Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs, has long supported the now-stalled AgJobs legislation, which would create more visas for agriculture workers.
She would not speculate on what the implications of Thursday’s ruling might be.
“Congresswoman Bono Mack has always supported stronger border security, greater workplace enforcement and a non-amnesty guest worker program,” said Ken Johnson, a Bono Mack spokesman.
“Given the importance of this issue, speculating on the eventual outcome of any legislation would be counterproductive.”
In the 5-3 decision Thursday, justices upheld an Arizona law saying states have the authority to impose sanctions on employers that hire unauthorized workers.
Under the 2007 law signed by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano while she was Arizona’s governor, employers could have their business licenses revoked.
The Supreme Court decision comes as Arizona appeals a ruling that blocked a second, more controversial law that empowers law enforcement to act as immigration agents.
Thursday’s ruling applies only to business licenses.
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, made up of Republican-appointed justices, said Arizona’s employer sanctions law “falls well within the confines of the authority Congress chose to leave to the states.”’
State and federal law do not require businesses to use E-Verify, but 59 in the Coachella Valley do.
Cathedral City: 4
Desert Hot Springs: 4
Indian Wells: 2
La Quinta: 2
Palm Desert: 13
Palm Springs: 15
Rancho Mirage: 6
Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security
The Associated Press and USA Today contributed to this report.