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Pacheco, Kavanagh spar over sanctions


Two advocates sitting on opposing sides of the controversial employer sanctions law sparred over its merits and repercussions in a public forum on Jan. 8, mirroring the debates that have been raging in Arizona and across the nation for some time now. 

Between Rep. John Kavanagh, R-8, and Jessica Pacheco, a former official of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, there were agreements on the broader points regarding, among others, the need for border enforcement, a guest-worker program, and some form of employer sanctions. But there are strong disagreements on the details of how those things should be handled and enforced, specifically on the latter.
Kavanagh strongly supports the employer sanctions law and views it as part of a three-pronged approach to address the complex problem of illegal immigration, the other two being stronger border enforcement and denial of public benefits to undocumented residents. One argument that supports the need for such legislation was that the federal government, whose job it is to solve the problem, has failed to do so.

Pacheco reiterates the criticism of many in the business community that the law put in place could hurt Arizona’s economy.

“We need employer sanctions to be fair, to be tough, and frankly to be rational,” Pacheco said, adding later in the debate “that’s frankly not what we got.”

There is much room for caution as the issue is pursued, she said.

“If we have a system in place that shuts down a business that has hired one, 12, (or) 1,800 folks that are not work-authorized in this country and that any legal worker associated with that firm or any legal worker potentially associated with a supplier of that firm is then impacted,” she said. “I’m not saying that employer sanctions shouldn’t exist, because they should. Businesses need to follow the law. I’m just saying that the law that we have in place is not the best solution for Arizona.”  

“I don’t demonize illegal immigrants,” Kavanagh said, adding he thinks most are an honest, hardworking lot. “But I don’t have much respect for them because they jumped the line. We have millions of people all over the world waiting patiently in line to come here as guest workers or even as people with a path to permanent residency. And I really think it is disrespectful and ridiculous to reward those who broke the law.”

One of the most interesting exchanges between the two centered on the Basic Pilot Program or E-Verify, an internet-based system operated by the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services in partnership with the Social Security Administration. It helps determine employment eligibility of new hires and the validity of their Social Security numbers.

Arizona’s law grants businesses a “rebuttable presumption” against charges they hired illegal immigrants if the company used the Basic Pilot Program to verify the employee’s immigration status. Rebuttable presumption is an assumption made in the law that will stand as fact unless someone comes forward to contest it and prove otherwise. In this situation, it would be assumed that the business did not knowingly hire an illegal immigrant.

After Pacheco explained the E-Verify process and cautioned employers to be careful as there are specific federal laws governing discrimination, Kavanagh said E-Verify is “actually a protection for the business.”

“If the business runs the recently hired employee through the E-Verify system and the employee comes back as being eligible to work, should the employee later be found to be illegal, there is a presumption—if charges are brought against the business—that the business did not know it was an illegal immigrant employee,” Kavanagh said.

“It’s important to note that it is a ‘rebuttable presumption’ and so it’s not a presumption that the court or the prosecutor needs to accept,” Pacheco interjected. “And so they can say, ‘You did that, but you should have known that that they weren’t legal because of x, y, z determining factors, and so even though you used E-Verify, that’s not going to help you in court.”

Kavanagh then said: “And that’s an extremely important thing to make a ‘rebuttable presumption’, and not an absolute presumption because there are plenty of people who can go on the street and get names and social security numbers that match that would easily get through E-Verify.”

Pacheco replied: “And that’s the problem with using E-Verify—because we go back to fraudulent documentation. It doesn’t get us what we need. What we need is a different federal system that we can actually rely on. Unfortunately, E-Verify is not it.”


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