States target employers of illegal migrants
This year, 30 states considered laws to sanction those who hire undocumented workers.
While the US House holds on-the-road hearings on reforming federal immigration laws, states and localities have already passed a raft of statutes that take aim at the economic magnet drawing illegal immigrants to the United States: employers.Skip to next paragraph
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In the past six months, at least 30 states have considered more than 75 bills targeting companies that hire undocumented immigrants. So far, 44 have been enacted, while a handful have been vetoed and several are awaiting a governor's pen, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In applying pressure to employers, the individual measures are spotty: They lay out hiring requirements for public agencies, for example, or for businesses with state contracts. But collectively, they signal Washington that many states are impatient for reform. Such enforcement efforts add up to the broadest assault on employers in years, experts agree.
"The primary reason you have millions [of workers] here illegally is because of the federal government's failure to enforce sanctions against the employers that hire them," says Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which backs tighter immigration controls. "Now, state and local governments are starting to take action against employers on their own as a response to overwhelming public pressure."
Georgia recently enacted requirements that all public employers will have to verify that they have not hired any illegal immigrants.
Arizona, Kansas, and Illinois say employers must require proof of US citizenship or legal immigrant status for their hires who want to be eligible for state children's health-insurance programs and Medicaid.
"States are clearly not waiting around until Congress solves the impasse on immigration," says Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a research group that wants immigration levels curtailed. "They feel the federal government has abdicated its responsibility to enforce immigration laws so states and localities are picking up the slack wherever they can.... They feel they are the ones left holding the bag for costs to education, healthcare, social services, and prisons."
In Georgia, the Security and Immigration Compliance Act, signed into law in April, requires all employers to verify the status of employees who are hired as of Jan. 1, 2008. Those whose status can't be verified will have 6 percent of their salary withheld for state income taxes.
Colorado enacted a law in June that prohibits state agencies from doing business with contractors who knowingly employ illegals. In May, Pennsylvania mandated that no illegal immigrants may be hired on projects financed by grants or loans from state government.
Immigration experts say the breadth and depth of current activity are higher than during periods of national reform on immigration in the mid-1960s and mid-1980s. That is being driven, they say, by the migration of larger numbers of immigrants beyond border states to the Midwest, South, Southeast, and Northwest.