The Payson Town Council Thursday night delivered a strong message to employers and landlords. Hiring or renting to an undocumented worker will result in severe consequences.
Several people, one who admitted she was in the United States illegally, addressed the council before the second reading of an ordinance that would revoke the business license of anyone who employs undocumented workers. The ordinance passed, 5-2, with councilors Ed Blair and Andy Romance in dissent.
Beginning in July, employers must list their business license number on any advertisement, including on work vehicles.
Any business owner found to be hiring undocumented workers, or landlords renting to them, could be fined up to $20,000 and will lose his or her business license.
Yolanda Perez, who admitted she was in the United States illegally, implored the council not to pass the ordinance.
She said there is no work in Mexico and many people are in Payson working to feed their families.
If Payson passed this ordinance, she said, the town's business community will struggle because illegal immigrants hold many jobs. She had no problem with Payson cracking down on the illegal immigrants who are committing criminal acts.
"Send the bad Mexicans back to Mexico, not us," Perez said.
The council needed to think of the people who had made a home in Payson who would have nowhere to go, she said.
"It is not easy to be an illegal," Perez said.
Tina Bruess, director of the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber does not have a position on the issue, but has been contacted by several businesses with concerns.
Those business owners believe the ordinance would make Payson an unattractive place to visit or move to, she said. Some employers might not hire any Latinos for fear their business license could be revoked if they mistakenly receive false documents in the hiring process.
That thinking could result in a lawsuit against the town, Bruess said. "There are certainly more attractive ways to handle it."
Cliff Potts, a real estate agent and former mayor, said if someone was mistreated because of their color, the town could be prosecuted.
Potts said while he seeks documentation before hiring a new employee, there are a few real estate companies that do not.
"How far do we have to go to tell the legitimacy (of the document)?" he asked.
Butch Klein of Quality Movers supported the ordinance, saying it is not right that he has to compete with employers who hire undocumented workers for low wages.
"I am getting sick and tired of bidding against people who are not doing it right," he said.
Chris Wolf, the chief executive officer for Payson Regional Medical Center, said unpaid medical bills have gone up in Payson by 30 percent. He was not blaming undocumented workers for the increase, but, he said illegal immigrants are realizing they can go to the emergency room to be treated, even if they cannot pay.
Diana Vasquez-Miller said Payson would be lost without undocumented workers in the work force.
She said there may be very few people working at golf courses and motels if this ordinance passed.
"We are talking about people who have been here many, many years," she said.
Erin Gibson said she had always been proud to be a Paysonite until this issue came up.
"These kids are going to be ripped out of our schools," she said through tears. "Think of the little kids. Listen to your heart a little bit."
Councilor Mike Vogel said this ordinance will help the businesses that are doing things the right way.
Blair wanted to know how Payson's ordinance differed from the one in court in Hazleton, Pa., the town that is being sued for its illegal immigration law.
Deputy Town Attorney Tim Wright said Payson is attempting to look at this issue as a business requirement.
Blair wanted to remove the landlord piece, saying it was not fair to penalize someone for providing services.
Vogel asked, "What other (businesses) are we going to exempt?"
Blair said he had no idea the town was going after landlords that rented to illegals.
Mayor Bob Edwards said the town cannot ask which laws it is going to follow.
"This will be one of toughest votes I will ever have to make," he said.
Blair made an amendment to the vote to exempt landlords from the ordinance, but the motion failed 4-3 with Councilors Tim Fruth, Vogel, John Wilson and Edwards voting against the amendment.
"Mr. Mayor, this is really confusing," Blair said after the amendment failed. "This isn't fair if you have to check out renters. I will not vote for this thing if it has that renter thing in it."
Edwards said the ordinance will become law in July.