From Online.WSJ.com, Wall Street Journal, Miriam Jordan and Danny Yadron, 28 May 2011.
A Supreme Court ruling this past week upholding an Arizona state law that cracks down on employers of illegal immigrants is irking some businesspeople who expect similar measures to spread to other states and threaten economic recovery in sectors that rely on unskilled workers.
But other businesses say they don’t mind the extra requirements for them to prove they’re hiring legal workers.
Thursday’s ruling said Arizona could strip employers of a business license after a second violation of the Legal Arizona Workers Act, which bars hiring illegal workers. It also upheld the requirement that state employers use an electronic database system, E-Verify, to check whether new hires are eligible to work in the U.S.
“We’re in a fledgling economy with everyone trying to get their feet on the ground,” said Clark Ivory, who runs Ivory Homes, one of the largest homebuilders in Utah. “Because Congress isn’t addressing immigration reform, states are coming up with these…counterproductive schemes.”
The Web-based E-Verify program allows businesses to check information provided by new hires against government databases. All federal contractors must use it. Three states—Arizona, Mississippi, and South Carolina—require all employers operating within their boundaries to use it.
About a dozen other states require its use by employers with public contracts. In Utah, private employers with more than 15 workers are required to use it, but there is no penalty for failing to do so. Elsewhere, use is voluntary.
E-Verify grew out of a pilot program introduced in 1997 and was promoted by the Bush administration. Still, it is only used by 11% of 7.7 million employers nationwide.
After Arizona made E-Verify mandatory for all companies operating in the state in 2008, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce joined civil-liberties groups to challenge it in the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court’s ruling is expected to influence several states where lawmakers have been seeking to mandate E-Verify use for all employers, among other measures to combat illegal immigration.
In Florida, where state contractors and agencies are required to use the program, using E-Verify “will get dicey as the economy recovers,” said Mark Wiley, chief executive of the Central Florida chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors.
At a House Judiciary Committee meeting in February, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, (D., Calif.) said mandatory E-Verify use would “encourage businesses and workers to enter the underground economy by working off the books.” She said it would “decimate” the agricultural sector, where illegal workers fill 75% of the jobs.
Mississippi passed its E-Verify law in 2008, and some employers in the state say it gives them more peace of mind.
“The majority of my members don’t have a problem with it at all,” said Henry Cote, executive director of the Yazoo City Chamber of Commerce. “If ICE comes knocking on the door, they’ve got the paperwork to say they’ve checked,” he said, referring to the federal immigration agency.
But the law has scared off migrant workers for some Mississippi blueberry farmers, who rely on immigrants for up to 95% of their labor, said Joe Fairchild, manager of Miss-Lou Blueberry Growers Cooperative in Lumberton, Miss.
This season, the labor shortage caused farmers to use machine harvesters rather than hand labor, Mr. Fairchild said. Machine picking is cheaper, but requires the blueberries to be processed, which means it takes longer for farmers to get paid, he said.
Laborers are “very unsure of it,” he said. “So they don’t come, so we don’t have labor.”
A 50-acre farm that relies on hand-picking needs at least 60 workers, Mr. Fairchild said. His cooperative has 40 active farms, he said.