"Stop illegal hiring" may mislead voters

Flagstaff, AZ – The voter passed Employer Sanctions Law went into effect January 1st. That law punishes employers who intentionally or knowingly hire illegal immigrants. The first time an employer is caught hiring an undocumented worker their business license is suspended temporarily. The second time their license is taken away.

Andrew Pacheco, the Phoenix attorney who is behind the new proposed law says Prop 202 intends to go a step farther.

PACHECO: It's tough and it's fair and it's enforceable. It closes the loopholes in the current law. It covers every business. It covers all of their licenses. And it gives law enforcement the tools they need to go after these unscrupulous employers.

But opponents say the so-called Stop Illegal Hiring Act doesn't do what the name implies. Prop 202 was in fact created by business groups unhappy with the state's employer sanctions law.

Anti illegal immigration activist Tim Rafferty calls Prop 202 a wolf in sheep's clothing. He says Pacheco and others who wrote the ballot question know that Arizonans have voted for anti illegal immigration measures time and time again.

RAFFERTY: The people that brought Prop 202 understand that. So they take our current law and gut it and then present it to the public as stop illegal hiring. The people who don't read the proposition or are not informed will look at proposition on the ballot say well yes I want to stop illegal hiring and they'll vote yes for it.

Under the current law employers have to run new hires through a federal database called E-verify. Prop 202 would loosen the screening requirement and allow employers to use other means to check their workers' status.

RAFFERTY: It's sad the big business that has brought us Prop 202 did not have the courage to stand up in front of the Arizona voters and say we disagree with your current employers sanctions law we're asking you to repeal that law our current law already stops illegal hiring and the new law will not.
Attorney Andrew Pacheco says 202 would go after employers who pay their workers only in cash. He says it would also punish the individual who did the actual hiring instead of the entire business.

PACHECO: What we want to do with our initiative is go after the real bad actors. And we want to use a scalpel as opposed to a chainsaw.

Prop 202 would also require complaints about employers hiring undocumented workers be signed, rather than allowing anonymous complaints.

State Representative Russell Pearce who was responsible for the original employer sanctions law says the group behind 202 puts "profits over patriotism," and will do everything they can to keep "cheap" illegal labor, while hurting American workers.

Arizona is one of the few states in the country that allows anyone who gets enough signatures to put policy questions on the ballot. Northern Arizona University political science chair Fred Solop says they can frame those questions to appeal to the most voters.

SOLOP: The direction people are going to lean is influenced by the language being used. So here we have a situation where in fact a yes vote loosens up some of the laws for businesses. Instead of going after businesses as a whole that employ illegal undocumented workers now individuals will be liable. But it prevents businesses from maybe going out of business from a practice they engaged in.

While 202 opponents call the measure a sham, Solop isn't willing to go that far.

SOLOP: It sounds harsh to say that it's about tricking voters. It's really a political campaign. They frame the issue in such a way as to gain support. And that happens across the board it happens not just with ballot questions. It happens with campaigns as well. The candidates frame their image the candidates try to frame the public's understanding of their opponent. And at some point we can say there's a manipulation but it's hard to identify where that line is.

Bottom line: A yes vote will loosen the employer sanctions law. A no vote will keep the employer sanctions law in tact.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales.