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The Skinny

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BUSTING THE BOSS

So the federal government finally came down hard last week on a Southern Arizona employer for hiring illegal immigrants. The president of Sun Drywall and Stucco, Ivan Hardt, and 10 of his employees face charges of knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and conspiring to harbor illegal immigrants.

The bust, which comes after a 16-month investigation, also netted eight illegal workers from Mexico. If you figure that we've got an estimated, what, 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, and it takes 16 months to arrest eight of them, then we should have this problem licked in, oh, just a couple million years.

We kid, we kid. Judging from the account from Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, Hardt and his crew were pretty reckless when it came to hiring illegal workers. ICE officials say they warned the company they had discovered that several employees had fraudulent green cards, but Sun Drywall kept them on the payroll anyway. How dumb is that?

At the same time that the feds are making an example of guys such as Hardt to show that they're serious about busting employers who "knowingly" hire illegal workers, the Arizona Legislature is wrestling with an employer-sanctions bill that remains stalled in the House as of press time.

There's a lot of pressure to stop the bill, HB 2779, which is the brainchild of state Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa. Pearce is determined to see a tough bill reach Gov. Janet Napolitano's desk, mostly because she vetoed last year's version because she said it was too watered down.

So to call the governor's bluff, Pearce is pushing the toughest legislation he can. It's already been watered down some--Pearce's $150,000 fine for a third offense has been significantly reduced, for example--but some moderate Republicans still have trouble with the bill, particularly when it comes to figuring out how to reliably verify whether an employee is in the country legally.

But Pearce has another trick up his sleeve: He's threatening to launch an initiative campaign to take the question straight to the voters. That has business types trying to figure out the best way to cut a deal on legislation to head off a ballot measure that they'll have zero control over.

Last week, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry weighed in. The chamber appears plenty worried that the talk at the Capitol has shifted from busting on illegal immigrants to busting companies that hire them. The state chamber teamed up with 32 other smaller chambers across the state to urge Napolitano and the Arizona Legislature to push for federal immigration reform.

As the groups explained in their letter to the state officials: "Arizona cannot effectively prevent illegal immigration on its own. The cost to the state of enforcing federal immigration law would be astronomical and would take vital funds away from other basic expenditures of the state."

It's amusing to see who's out in front of this effort: Glenn Hamer, the executive director of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Until last fall, Hamer was the executive director of the Arizona Republican Party, which has delighted in scapegoating illegal immigrants.

"We firmly believe Congress must overhaul the nation's immigration system to meet the labor needs of business, slow the growing crime of identity theft, enhance homeland security and provide a fair and accurate way to determine work authorization," Hamer said in a press release.

That sounds a lot like what Napolitano has been doing. Earlier this week, just before President George W. Bush was scheduled to meet with Mexican President Felipe Calderón, Napolitano sent a letter urging both men to come up with a comprehensive immigration-reform package that includes a secure border, employer sanctions and a reasonable guest worker plan.

"Now is the time to end the embarrassment of a failed immigration system," Napolitano wrote. "Both nations created this failure. Nothing short of both nations working together can bring about the solution."


ELSEWHERE ON THE BORDER BEAT

Members of the House may be reluctant to go after employers, but they're OK with some border legislation. Last week, on a 38-15 vote, the House passed HB 2766, which provides $10 million in funding to put National Guard troops into a primary enforcement role on the border, rather than the backup work they're currently doing.

All the Southern Arizona Republicans voted for the bill, while most Southern Arizona Democrats voted against it. Three Democrats--Linda Lopez, Olivia Cajero-Bedford and Manny Alvarez--didn't vote on the bill at all. Judging from the noises coming from the governor's office, it's likely headed for a veto if it passes the Senate.

On a 35-23 vote, the House also passed HB 2589, which would make it a crime to stand on street corners looking for work. Again, all Southern Arizona Republicans voted for the bill, while Southern Arizona Democrats voted against it. Lopez didn't vote on that one, either.


SCRAMBLEWATCH '07: IN-AND-OUT EDITION

Democrat Regina Romero made it official last week, using International Women's Day to announce that she was going to seek the Ward 1 office being vacated by City Councilman José Ibarra.

Raised in a farming family in Somerton, Romero came to Tucson to study at the University of Arizona, where she earned a communications degree in 2000. She has worked as Pima County's youth internship coordinator and program coordinator for neighborhood reinvestment. Most recently, she worked as an aide to Ward 3 Councilwoman Karin Uhlich before resigning after Ibarra announced he wouldn't seek re-election this year.

Romero is tight with Congressman Raúl Grijalva, who employs her husband, Ruben Reyes, as an aide.

Democrat Ken Green, who is with the A Mountain Neighborhood Association, has also formally filed his paperwork to run in the westside Ward 1 primary.

Also considering a run, according to the City Clerk: Democrat Luis Gonzales, a former state lawmaker who made the bad career move of giving up his legislative seat to challenge the legendary Mo Udall for a congressional seat. Gonzales has since lost races for the Board of Supervisors, the City Council and, to complete the circle, Congress once again in 2002.

Over in eastside Ward 2, Democrat Clarence Boykins, who lost his bid for a seat in the House of Representatives last year, has been chased out of the race by Rodney Glassman, the hard-charging candidate who has already filed for matching funds. Boykins told the City Clerk's Office last week that he would not seek the seat this year.

Republican Lori Oien, a neighborhood activist who has worked with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, remains in the running in Ward 2.

The big question remains: Will Democrat Steve Leal give up his Ward 5 seat to challenge Republican Mayor Bob Walkup?

In an interview on KUAT Channel 6's Arizona Illustrated last week, Leal told host Bill Buckmaster that a mayor needed to act as a "midwife" in bringing issues to the table. If he does run, we'd suggest that Leal give a little more thought to his metaphors. Some images we don't need in our heads.


ADDED VALUE

We're sure you're still reeling from discovering your property values have jumped 20 to 25 percent. If you want to appeal your new valuation, we remind you that the folks from the Pima Association of Taxpayers will host a forum with Pima County Assessor Bill Staples and his staff from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., Saturday, March 17, at the Wood Memorial Library, 3455 N. First Ave.

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