Five years after it took effect and more than year after it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, an Arizona law requiring businesses to check the citizenship of every new hire is often disregarded and rarely enforced.
The Legal Arizona Workers Act mandates every business in the state verify the legal status of new employees against the federal E-Verify database and it lets the state strip licenses of businesses that knowingly hire undocumented workers.
But the Department of Homeland Security reports Arizona businesses used the database just 982,593 times in 2011, even though the Census Bureau said there were 1.5 million new hires in the state that year, which would make for a 66 percent compliance rate.
Just 43 percent of Arizona businesses had enrolled in the system as of this month, using data from Homeland Security enrollment figures and Census Bureau statistics on the number of Arizona businesses. That rate falls to 19 percent for businesses with four or fewer employees, or less than one business in five.
For businesses that chose to ignore the law there is little repercussion: The Arizona attorney general’s office reported only two E-Verify cases since the law took effect in 2008.
Those less-than-impressive numbers are largely due to the fact that the law was designed to encourage business participation. If an Arizona business is found to be employing undocumented workers, the state will not check to see if the employer used E-Verify — but the employer can use E-Verify as a defense.
That creates “a little bit of a conundrum to how the state might enforce” the law, said Julie Pace, an attorney who represented business groups in a challenge of the act that reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010.
“Arizona hasn’t chosen to go down that path and hasn’t spent any resources verifying whether people are actually using E-Verify or not,” Pace said.
County attorneys and sheriffs’ offices investigate businesses only on a formal complaint that a business is employing undocumented workers. Complaints submitted in the proper format must be investigated; those that are submitted without the proper paperwork may be investigated at the prosecutor’s discretion, according to the attorney general’s office.
Arizona had originally appropriated funds to educate businesses on E-Verify and to enforce the law, but that money has dried up.