Officers should be provided with subpoena power

When the employer-sanctions law of the state took effect nearly a year ago, it threatened to shut down businesses that hired illegal workers.

But, authorities say that not a single employer has been taken to court in Arizona, mainly because the landmark law is too difficult to enforce.

In Maricopa County, where the law led to raids on a dozen businesses and the arrest of 159 workers and a manager, investigators have not been able to assemble concrete evidences revealing that employers actually knew the arrested workers were illegal, which is a requirement of the law.

A few employers have resisted turning over their hiring records or speaking with investigators. As a result of this, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas wants the Legislature to give subpoena power to the prosecutors to investigate cases under employer-sanctions law, which is enforced by filing a civil lawsuit. He believes that this would make it easier for investigators to force employers to turn over records.

Up to now, authorities have obtained record with criminal search warrants, allowed because the raids were carried out as a probe into criminal identity theft of immigrants. But Thomas said that officers need to be provided with subpoena power to make a civil case directly against an employer and prove intentional hiring of illegal workers. Employers who are found violating rules can have their business licenses suspended or revoked.

However, business groups oppose the change, saying that the sanction law is already the toughest in the nation and that most employers are complying. They believe that providing law enforcement powers would lead to further harassment of businesses at a time when the state’s economy is already suffering.

The limit on investigation powers is not the sole reason for a lack of action against the employers.

To a large degree, the flattering economy of the state so far has rendered the sanctions law moot because construction, manufacturing, hospitality and other industries that are heavily dependent on immigrant labors are laying off employees instead of hiring them, prosecutors say.

The law is applicable only to hires that were made after the 31st of December, 2007, and many of the 151 illegal immigrants arrested in the 12 raids had been hired earlier, said the authorities.

Still, supporters of the law believe that the law is fulfilling its purpose of turning off the job magnet that draws illegal immigrants to Arizona.