AS CONGRESSIONAL DEBATE ON immigration reform drags on, states and municipalities from coast to coast are taking matters into their own hands. Dozens of state laws and local ordinances have been passed, many of them targeting business owners who hire undocumented workers.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than 500 pieces of state legislation related to illegal immigration have been introduced since the beginning of 2006. In addition, municipalities have begun passing ordinances.
On July 13, the city of Hazleton, Pa., passed the Illegal Immigration Relief Act Ordinance, a sweeping measure that includes barring a business from obtaining a city business license or renewing its license for five years if it “employs, retains, aids, or abets illegal aliens ... whether directly or by or through any agent, ruse, guise, device, or means, no matter how indirect.” For subsequent violations, the period increases to 10 years.
Similar ordinances have been introduced in Avon Park and Palm Bay, Fla., and proposed in Escondido and San Bernardino, Calif.
For Hazleton-area builders, the ordinance is “uncharted waters,” says Peter Restaino, president of the Building Industry Association of Northeastern Pennsylvania. It will heighten the level of urgency locally and around the state to increase vocational training and development of skilled labor pools. “A growing problem just got worse,” he says.
Employer sanctions aren't going to be any more effective than the federal sanctions that have been in place since 1986, says Michele Waslin, director of immigration policy research for the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy group.
“They've never been effectively enforced, and they've created a whole black market of fake documents,” she says.
Lawsuits will be based on more than a century of legal precedent, says Alberto Benitez, director of the clinical program in immigration law at George Washington University in Washington.
“Immigration is absolutely a federal matter,” he says. “All the other jurisdictions need to stay out of it. These kinds of initiatives will never stand up in court.”