The Gila County Attorney's office on Jan. 1 will start enforcing a controversial law that could revoke the license of any business that employs undocumented workers, Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores said this week.
"Unless the federal court tells us that we cannot enforce the law, we will have complaint forms available at the County Attorney's Office and on the county Web site on Jan. 1 for those who have information to make a complaint," said Flores.
The Arizona law relies on a hotly debated debated federal database to certify a worker's legal status would revoke a business' license on the second offense.
The law has already survived several legal challenges, but a coalition of business and civil rights groups will argue before a federal appeals court on Jan. 15 that the law is unfair, unworkable and likely to provoke discrimination against even legal workers who appear foreign.
Several business groups have joined in the lawsuit, citing both the paperwork burden and the possibility that an unreliable national database could lead to unfair sanctions and legal costs.
However, two lower courts have already upheld the law that could impose a temporary loss of a business license on a first offense and the business "death sentence" of a permanent revocation on a second offense.
John Stanton, manager of the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the law has caused concern among business owners.
"There aren't going to be any winners. This is one of he most All-American towns you've ever been in -- and they're going to obey the law. But I think they feel confused, as I do, by what's happened -- that we have to do things that the feds should be doing."
Some of the groups suing to overturn the law have harshly condemned it.
"This radical and untested law should not be allowed to go into effect before a final determination of its constitutionality. Arizona's law does a disservice to the public and to the state's workers and businesses by requiring the use of a fundamentally flawed database system and imposing draconian sanctions," said ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project attorney Omar Jadwat in a press release.
The law requires county attorneys to investigate complaints starting on Jan. 1, said Flores.
She dismissed concerns that the law will lead to racial profiling or discrimination against legal workers. She noted that it is still illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race or national origin, adding that the County Attorney's Office will not pursue complaints that are solely based on race, national origin or language.
The law also requires that by Jan. 1, 2008, employers must use the federal government's E-Verify system to verify the legal status of any new hire. E-Verify is free, but requires training to use.
New employees will have to provide multiple forms of identification and come up clean on the federal data base.
Flores encouraged employers to register for E-verify as soon as possible at https://www.vis-dhs.com/EmployerRegistration or by calling the Office of Verification at 1-888-464-4218.
Growers, contractors and the hospitality industry have all expressed concerns about the impact of the law on their labor force. Steve Chucri, president of the Arizona Restaurant and Hospitality Association, has argued that it will cost a small restaurant $100,000 to comply with the law and that costs for larger restaurants may total $1 million.
However, the legislature passed the law in June, arguing that only by enforcing employer sanctions can the state regain control of the border.
Each year, border patrol agents arrest up to 500,000 people trying to cross the border illegally in Arizona, which represents only a fraction of the border crossers.
One study by The Pew Charitable Trusts concluded that the number of illegal immigrants in Arizona has more than quadrupled since 1996 -- double the rate of increase nationally.