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Fri, Feb. 21

Column: Talk of the Town- Screening relies on obsolete system

Arizona's new employer sanctions law will result in discriminatory enforcement against employers who employ Hispanic workers.

Arizona Farm Bureau, the state's largest farm group representing agricultural employers, has joined with other business groups in a legal challenge against the new law because it depends solely on an inadequate federal verification system and it lacks constitutional due process.

 Despite our frustrations over federal failures, regulation of immigration is a federal issue. We believe the federal courts should prescribe the boundaries under which local governments can receive information, investigate allegations, consider evidence and take action against a business for immigration compliance matters. With constitutionality questions answered, we would call on the Arizona Legislature to develop an employer sanctions bill that is legal, fair and nondiscriminatory.

We also support targeting those employers who are not complying with the nation's hiring laws - those who employ under the table and off the books.

 The Arizona Farm Bureau shares the public's frustration as Congress again dodges border security and appropriate worker visa programs. We have spoken out about the problems of illegal workers for years. We support securing the border and having a work force that is not filled with illegal workers who present fraudulent documents to employers.

The system is full of illegal documents, but employers can do nothing effective until we have verifiable documents tied to the applicant and a timely, accurate means to verify them.

 With its dependence on the "basic pilot" for employers to verify legal workers, they have set up the program for failure. Only 17,000 U.S. employers currently are registered for this program, with only one-half using it. Moreover, the system cannot detect fraudulent documents or multiple uses of fraudulent documents. The federal government needs to fix this.

 Arizona has approximately 139,000 employers, and I assure you that capability, reliability and timing issues will arise as we ramp up use of this system. Have you ever known rapid increases in computer use not to create problems? Employers only want legal and reliable labor and prospective employees just want a job.

Enforcement of the new law will depend on anonymous complaints from the public, fellow or past employees, competitors or anyone with a grudge. Local authorities "shall" investigate complaints that are not "frivolous" - a standard just above fanciful. You can bet most of these complaints will involve employees who appear to be Hispanic. In my book, this is profiling. This not only affects the employee who proves to be illegal and the employer, but the remaining legal workers who find themselves out of a job because the business closes as a penalty.

 Congress must deal with these issues soon and comprehensively. We do not need a patchwork of state and local immigration laws that will tie up the legal process - steps that ultimately will fail and only increase frustration over this issue.

 We did not want to go to court. We prefer working out differences in a public policy arena. Employers will step up as a new line of enforcement as we screen employees and review their documents. But along with this responsibility must come the authority and database that will assure that the employment decisions I make will not be discriminatory and subject me to charges of discrimination.

Kevin Rogers is president of the Arizona Farm Bureau, a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving and improving agriculture. His e-mail is through

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