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Latino businesses, advocates denounce GOP push to punish businesses for undocumented workers

A proposed Arizona ballot initiative would expand the mandatory use of E-Verify to independent contractors and subcontractors. Businesses that do not use the system could face fines and felony charges. Latino business owners and advocates argue the initiative would be devastating to Arizona's economy, harming Latino-owned businesses and pushing away immigrant workers and clients.

By Gloria Gomez, AZ Mirror

Aureliano Dominguez moved to the Grand Canyon State from Sinaloa, Mexico, more than three decades ago, and struggled with homelessness when he arrived. Today, he’s the proud owner of four Sonoran-style hot dog restaurants. 

But a ballot initiative being hurried through the legislature by Republican lawmakers could force him to shut down as many as two locations. 

House Concurrent Resolution 2060 would ask voters in November to expand the mandated use of E-Verify, adding previously shielded independent contractors, like entrepreneurs, and subcontractors, such as roofing, landscaping or construction professionals, to the list of businesses required to verify the citizenship status of their employees. Employers who refuse to use the system could be charged with a class 6 felony and fined $10,000 for each undocumented employee. 

Dominguez told the Arizona Mirror that, if the initiative is sent to the ballot and wins voter approval, he expects the impact on his restaurants to be devastating. Anti-immigrant policies, he said, invariably push people away, which negatively affects businesses like his that are intertwined with the Hispanic community. 

“We won’t have the clientele we have now, because (laws like this) always divide families and lead to deportations. And then our employees would suffer,” Dominguez said. “It creates a domino effect on the economy of a business and on the community.” 

Latino business advocates and Democratic lawmakers gathered at the state Capitol on Monday to denounce the initiative and call on Republican legislators in the Senate to vote it down. The proposal passed the state House of Representatives last week, and if it makes it through the Senate without any amendments that would require it to be sent back to the House for another review, it will be sent directly to the November ballot for voters to consider. 

Sen. Flavio Bravo, D-Phoenix, warned his colleagues that the legislation would only serve to harm Arizona’s economy, noting that lawmakers have yet to resolve the state’s $1.7 billion dollar budget deficit. 

“We are looking down the barrel of policy that will not only kill industries and dig us deeper into an already growing budget deficit, but this will undoubtedly rip apart families and upend the work we have been doing for decades to strengthen our workforce,” he said. 

Monica Villalobos, president and CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, criticized the resolution as “lazy politics” and an attempt to vilify immigrants to garner political points. 

The proposal’s sponsor, House Speaker Ben Toma, R-Glendale, is battling for a seat in Congress to represent the state’s staunchly Republican eighth district. And, despite saying he wouldn’t use the resolution on the campaign trail, shortly after holding a news conference to champion the measure he featured it in a fundraising email

Joe Garcia, executive director of the political advocacy arm of Chicanos Por La Causa, added that immigration policy is under the purview of the federal government. Congress has failed to pass any comprehensive immigration legislation for decades, and a bipartisan attempt to do so this year was run aground after Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nominee, expressed displeasure at a solution that would scuttle his ability to campaign on the issue.

Arizona Republicans are taking the wrong approach, Garcia said, by threatening the livelihood of the state’s more than 200,000 undocumented residents

“You don’t punish people for broken policies,” he said. “You don’t punish people for strengthening our economy and our way of life. You don’t punish people, ripping families apart, simply because you want to get elected.” 

Jose Rivera, a first generation Arizonan and the owner of Tres Leches Cafe, a local Mexican-style coffee shop and bakery with a location just a block away from the state Capitol, urged lawmakers not to approve the initiative. 

“This bill not only threatens to impose crippling fines on businesses but also sends a chilling message to immigrant entrepreneurs, like myself, and immigrant workers: that we’re not welcome,” he said. “Bills like HCR2060 criminalize us, push us further into the shadows and stifle the very entrepreneurial spirit that defines the American dream, that defines what it means to be Arizonan.” 

Governor, businesses react

Gov. Katie Hobbs spoke out against the ballot referendum on Monday, adding her voice to the growing list of opponents. While the Democrat has taken a critical view of the Biden administration’s immigration policies, inspiring hope among Arizona Republicans that she might support their more stringent proposals, she has repeatedly advocated for humane solutions and increased funding to address the state’s border issues instead of criminalization. 

In an emailed statement, Hobbs reiterated that stance, dismissing HCR2060 and a slate of other anti-immigrant proposals championed by Republicans this session as “job killing” bills. 

“Instead of securing our border, these bills will simply raise costs, hurt our farmers, put Arizona entrepreneurs out of business, and destroy jobs for countless working class Arizonans,” she wrote. “The answer to securing the border is more resources for border patrol and law enforcement in (border) communities, not job killing, anti-immigrant legislation meant to score cheap political points.”

Hobbs also denounced the ballot initiative as a “desperate, partisan attempt to circumvent the legislative process.” While the Ninth Floor is the final step for bills, and Hobbs’ veto stamp can kill legislation she opposes, legislatively referred ballot initiatives don’t require her input and can’t be stopped by her office. 

On Friday, more than 100 Arizona businesses, faith and community leaders sent a letter to GOP legislative leaders calling on them to oppose the ballot initiative and other anti-immigrant proposals. Signees included co-chair of the American Business Immigration Coalition, Bob Worsley; John Graham, the CEO of Sunbelt Holdings; and Mesa Mayor John Giles. The letter warned Toma and Senate President Warren Petersen that the package of hostile proposals could have economic consequences similar to those felt after SB1070, the state’s infamous “show me your papers” law, was passed. 

“Our state incurred a loss of $141 million after SB1070’s enactment in 2010, with a rippling loss of 2,761 jobs, $86.5 million loss in earnings, a $253 million loss in economic output, and $9.4 million loss in tax revenues to the state,” reads the letter. “It also severely damaged the relationship with Arizona’s largest trading partner — Mexico. Arizona has seen this ‘movie’ before, and it did not end well.”

Still, while Latino business advocates and their supporters have begun sounding the alarm over the ballot initiative, heavyweight business representatives that were opposed to similar legislation in the past and were key to carving out the current exceptions for independent contractors and subcontractors have been unwilling to take a stance

The Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce told the Arizona Mirror that it is keeping an eye on the resolution, but would not take a position. 

The Arizona Roofing Contractors Association, which joined a lawsuit against the Legal Arizona Workers Act, a 2007 law that the GOP ballot initiative builds on, said only that it encourages all its members to follow “current laws using E-Verify” but refused to answer questions about its view of the initiative. 

And the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which helped spearhead the lawsuit against the 2007 law, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

Garcia, from Chicanos Por La Causa Action Fund, told the Mirror that he believes the hesitation is due to information gathering efforts, and said he expects the groups will take stronger positions soon. 

“They know what the cost is,” he said. “They know that, when we’re talking about the color green, suddenly the color brown is secondary.” 

It’s unclear, however, how much disapproval from the business community will dampen Republicans’ willingness to back the initiative. 

Villalobos said GOP lawmakers have been willing to meet with her to discuss her organization’s concerns, but she isn’t fully confident that they’re considering her input.

“They may be open to meetings, but there is a definite track that they are following,” she said. “I don’t know how willing they are to listen, but we are certainly making (our) points.” 

She added that the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which also led the challenge against the 2007 law, is ready to mount another defense of undocumented workers if the GOP ballot initiative makes it out of the legislature — whether through an education campaign against the measure or in the form of a lawsuit after it’s approved by voters. 

“We are prepared to do whatever is necessary to allow entrepreneurs and people who want to work in the state of Arizona to be given that opportunity,” she said.

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