Business owners challenge bill requiring E-Verify checks for jobs, benefits

Alejandra Gomez, executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA, backed by business owners, advocates and lawmakers, spoke out Monday against HCR 2060, a proposal that would require businesses and governments to use E-Verify to confirm the citizenship status of prospective workers and recipients of public assistance. (Photo by Martin Dreyfuss/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – House Speaker Ben Toma says his latest immigration bill could save Arizona billions in welfare benefits annually, but small-business owners rallied Monday to say it will cost the state instead, by driving out businesses and workers.

The business owners, backed by advocates and Democratic lawmakers, said HCR 2060 – which would require proof of citizenship to work or to receive any public assistance – will wind up hurting the state’s economy while renewing fear among Latinos in Arizona.

“HCR 2060 will drive economic investment out of our state. It will instill fear in Black and brown races,” said Jose “ET” Rivera, the owner of Tres Leches Cafe in Phoenix. “As a first-generation Mexican-American business owner, I am deeply troubled. We are not welcome.”

Rivera was just one of the speakers at the rally organized by Sen. Flavio Bravo, D-Phoenix, to oppose Toma’s proposal, one of a package of bills in the Legislature that critics are deriding a “SB 1070 2.0” – a reference to the state’s controversial “show me your papers law” from 2010.

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“I was here for that fight,” said Alejandra Gomez, executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA, talking about the days of SB 1070. “I was here for the separation of our families. I was here for the pain and the aftermath of our economy and our neighborhoods … we will not go back to that division, to that hate.”

Toma did not respond to requests for comment on Monday’s rally. But in remarks last week, the Glendale Republican said his proposal is needed to respond to what he called an “invasion” at the southern border that the governor and federal government “are doing nothing about.”

“We may not be able to do the federal government’s job, but we can stop Arizona from becoming like California,” Toma said then. “Our message to illegal immigrants is simple: If you want to take advantage of Americans, go somewhere else.”

He called his proposal “one of the toughest laws on illegal immigration ever written.” It would require that businesses and local governments verify the citizenship status of anyone seeking a job or public assistance. It would also “make it a felony to knowingly assist an illegal alien in breaking our employment laws,” Toma said.

Gov. Katie Hobbs on Monday came out against HCR 2060 and other immigration bills, which she called “job-killing, anti-immigrant legislation meant to score cheap political points.” But she may not be able to stop it: Unlike most bills, Toma’s resolution would bypass the governor and go directly to voters as a ballot initiative this fall, in what Hobbs called a “desperate, partisan attempt to circumvent the legislative process.”

But Heritage Action for America defended Toma’s plan, saying in a statement last week that the resolution protects Arizonans from the federal government’s “prioritization” of illegal immigrants.

(Video by Denzen Cortez/Cronkite News)

“HCR 2060 protects American workers through the commonsense E-Verify program and stems the flow of illegal immigrants by taking away a major magnet for those flooding across the border,” the group’s statement said.

Toma’s proposal passed the House Thursday on a 31-28 party-line vote and must now get through the Senate.

Joseph Garcia, executive director of Chicanos por la Causa Action Fund, said he hopes the bill does not get through the Senate, but that Monday’s rally was needed to educate new voters in Arizona who did not live through SB 1070.

“We know the reputation of Arizona with SB 1070 went international in a bad, bad way. So it is about bringing voters up to speed today so we don’t go back to the dark days of yesteryear,” Garcia said.

Jose “ET” Rivera, owner of Tres Leches Cafe, said he was “deeply troubled” by the message the HCR 2060 would send to minority communities as well as its economic harm it would to small businesses. (Photo by Martin Dreyfuss/Cronkite News)

SB 1070 allowed authorities to demand the immigration status of anyone they arrested, a law that critics said was quickly abused by police who used it as an excuse to harass minority communities. Most of the law was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012, which said it infringed on federal authority.

Garcia said that immigration is being used as a “wedge issue” by Republicans in an election year, a position echoed by Monica Villalobos, president of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“It is lazy politics to scapegoat immigrants to get elected. Especially this kind of legislation that has already been denounced by the courts,” Villalobos said Monday.

She said it is a troubling stand for the Republican Party, which frames itself as supportive of small business.

“I did not leave the Republican Party. The Republican Party left me,” Villalobos said. “It (SB 1070) not only hurt our state image but our state economy. It tore families apart, and instead of Republicans supporting small businesses, they are enforcing crippling policies.”

News Reporter, Phoenix

Martin Dreyfuss expects to graduate in December 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. Dreyfuss is a published journalist and poet, with experience in social media, play-by-play, management and content creation. He began working at age 10, when he began building his work ethic and professional experience in restaurants, sales and esports organization management.

News Reporter, Phoenix

Denzen Cortez expects to graduate in May 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in political science. Cortez has interned as a reporter at KTAR News and NBC KCAA radio station as on-air talent. He’s had additional experience as an anchor for The Cut Network.