Care urged in tackling migration
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 30, 2007

Mary Jo Pitzl

If you're a state lawmaker and you're thinking of proposing laws to deal with illegal immigration, look before you leap.

That was the message from a panel of attorneys and an Arizona lawmaker speaking Thursday at the fall meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"If you're going to stick your toe in the water and get involved (in state immigration laws), study up," said Mary O'Grady, Arizona's solicitor general
She knows what she's talking about: She is defending the state's employer-sanctions law against a challenge from business and Latino groups.

Lucas Guttentag said that his advice is to stay out of the fray.

"Let someone else stick their head on the chopping block," he said. "You will get sued."

Guttenberg is national director of the Immigrants' Rights Project for the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU is among the dozen groups suing Arizona over its sanctions law.

The advice comes as statehouses nationwide have generated a cascade of bills addressing immigration.

A report released Thursday by the NCSL documented a 250 percent jump in the number of immigration bills introduced by legislatures this year, compared to 2006.

Of those, 244 bills in 46 states became law, with two measures still being scrutinized by governors. That represents more than three times the number of bills signed last year.

Identification and driver's-license issues drew the most attention, followed closely by employment-related bills.

Arizona's employer-sanctions law was among those that got legislative approval this year.

State Sen. Barbara Leff, chairman of the Arizona Senate's Commerce and Economic Development Committee, outlined the history of Arizona's attempt to curb illegal immigration by creating penalties for employers found to have knowingly hired illegal workers.

"The question is: How do you do it without destroying your own economy?" she said.

She believes the state can get tough without causing the economy to crater by sticking to the federal definition of "knowingly" hiring workers and not rashly raiding workplaces.

She said she's heartened by the intent of 14 of the state's county attorneys, who are charged with enforcing the law, to not accept anonymous complaints of illegal hires, a practice that she thinks could lead to businesses trying to sabotage their competitors.

The exception is Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who has said he will accept anonymous complaints.

"That's going to be a bit of a problem," Leff said.

Roxana Bacon, an immigration-law attorney, cautioned lawmakers to approach immigration as a global force, recognizing that it can be difficult, if not impossible, to regulate the push and pull of labor demands.

"We can't fence it out, so we have to be smart enough to harness it," Bacon said of immigrant labor.

She said state legislatures would be wise to stay on the sidelines while the federal government hammers out immigration solutions.

She acknowledged that the states have acted out of frustration with Washington, D.C., but said there are myriad unintended consequences of a patchwork of state immigration laws.

They include a loss of workers and a crippling of local businesses.

"The sucking sound might be the sucking sound as workers leave your state," Bacon said.