By Tim Triplett, Editor-in-Chief
Unintended Consequences Undermine Arizona Law
Visit most any service center or metal processor and you will see workers with Hispanic features toiling diligently on the shop floor or in the office. Most of them are probably American citizens or properly documented workers. Some of them, depending on the company, probably are not. Like it or not, the metals industry is part of the debate over illegal immigration.
Rather than building a fence or increasing border patrols between the United States and Mexico, some people contend the simplest solution to the immigration problem would be to remove the incentive for Mexican men and women to sneak into this country. If no one would hire them, they would have no reason to come north seeking a better life and take jobs away from “real Americans,” the argument goes.
That’s essentially the basis for the Legal Arizona Workers Act of 2007, which sets out to penalize companies that knowingly hire illegal aliens. Sometimes called the “business death penalty statute,” the measure allows the state of Arizona to deny employers a business license after a second violation, effectively putting them out of business. Challenged by opponents that contend regulating immigration is the job of the federal government, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s right to regulate its businesses in a controversial 5-3 split decision last month.
No doubt, Arizona’s approach sounds logical on the surface. Keeping illegal aliens out of the country will open up more jobs for U.S. citizens. If you run a business in Arizona, all you have to do is make sure everyone you hire is in this country legally. But as a small business owner, how are you supposed to carry out that policing function? What if you get it wrong? The safest method would be to not hire anyone who appears even remotely Latino. As the three dissenting justices pointed out, the measure will likely promote discrimination against legal workers who look or sound foreign. Indeed, it could even result in widespread firings of individuals with questionable skin color, and significantly disrupt commerce in the process.
Now that the Supreme Court has cleared the way, look for other states to follow Arizona’s lead. The debate on the state level will probably make immigration reform a hot-button issue in the next presidential election. Given the likely unintended consequences of Arizona’s law—racial discrimination, labor shortages, thousands of jobs left unwanted and unfilled, and the flight of employers to other jurisdictions—it is clearly not a model other states or the federal government should emulate.