Carbon Consciousness & Action

Arizona Licensing Law Unlikely to Curb Illegal Immigration

The Supreme Court on Thursday in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting upheld Arizona’s law which revokes the business licenses of companies that employ illegal aliens. Arizona’s law, likely to be advanced in other states by legislators wanting to appear to “do something about illegal immigration” is unlikely to significantly slow the employment of unauthorized workers in many sectors of the economy.

Most large businesses already contract with third party contractors whose core competency is stringing together still smaller contractors who directly employ illegal aliens. The smaller contractors, many run by illegal aliens themselves, provide the cover that the larger businesses need, so that they can obtain the benefit of low-cost illegal workers without putting their own businesses at risk.

I have represented hundreds of illegal alien workers who have gone weeks or months without being paid their wages by the lower-level labor contractors, even though the work that they do is really for major national corporations. This work includes cleaning the floors and tending the warehouses of the nation’s largest supermarket chains, framing huge tracts of new houses, and digging trenches, work that was performed a generation ago by unionized employees working directly for the national companies that need the work done.

The smallest labor contractors often don’t pay legally-mandated employment taxes and premiums to the government, nor do they pay overtime to their workers, which already gives them a large cost advantage over law-abiding enterprises. In the rare event that downsized state and local government agencies learn about the workers and their non-payment of taxes and insurance premiums, the lower-level contractors get shut down, only to reopen again under other names. Thus, the threat of losing a business license will do little to deter the large national businesses working with labor contractors hiring illegal aliens, because their business licenses certainly won’t be on the line.

Illegal immigrant workers are largely unable to defend themselves, and live in perpetual fear that complaining to the authorities will result in them losing their jobs and getting turned over to immigration. I am handling a case now where the employer, caught underpaying an employee, decided to run a “e-verify” on an employee that they had known was illegal for three years, simply as a pretext for firing him and sending a message to the other workers about what happens to those who assert their rights.

The surge in hiring of illegal immigrants is in part attributable to the decline of labor unions and the unionized workforce. Unions had a strong vested interest in knowing who was on the job, and assuring that the pay and work conditions were consistent with their labor contracts. Companies were once unable to avoid paying union wages by hiring outside contractors. Now that the unions are gone, no one pays attention to who the workers are, or how much they get paid. Workers now have few avenues to stand up to violations of employment laws, and weakened government agencies have essentially been sidelined.

The unskilled American worker has seen real wages fall because of a huge influx of unauthorized workers and the decline of unions. Most politicians offer workers little more than a few hundred dollars a year in tax cuts and empty rhetoric and ineffective policies aimed at illegal aliens. A long-term plan of organizing the labor force through stronger labor unions and a rationalized immigration policy will result in higher wages and better conditions for most working Americans.

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