Last year, Tomás León could barely drag people to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s press conference backing comprehensive immigration reform. He was the only speaker to the handful of reporters and supporters who attended.
What a difference a year makes.
This year, the chamber’s conference room was packed with reporters, supporters, and a long line of business owners who lined up behind León to speak out for immigration reform.
The threat of an employer-sanction measure on November’s ballot has brought the issue home for many businesspeople, making them more willing to publically support immigration reform, Leon said after the media conference Tuesday.
“Their backs are against the wall and they’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. Why am I being targeted? This is the responsibility of everybody, not just the employers,’ ” León said.
Bill Valenzuela, who owns W. G. Valenzuela Drywall Inc., felt the squeeze three years ago when government officials confiscated his company’s records for its 340 workers. Valenzuela, who said he checks Social Security numbers for all employees, said immigration officers arrested a couple of workers but told him to fire 14 others, who were all related. The immigration officers told him they didn’t arrest those workers because even they weren’t sure if the workers were legal or not.
“What chance do we stand?” Valenzuela asked.
Six months ago, Martin Headlee, of the Tucson based Headlee Roofing, joined Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform, a coalition of business owners from a broad sector of industries. The group encourages employers to speak directly to their federal representatives about their need for legal immigrant workers.
If Arizona legislators are left to handle the situation, “we think things will be terrible,” Headlee said.
León laid out the chamber’s four-pronged position on immigration reform, which calls for enhanced border and national security, a guest-worker program and increased visa quotas, streamlined citizenship and access to education, and an economic development partnership with countries such as Mexico to strengthen their economies.
The chamber supports the STRIVE (Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy) Act, which U.S. Reps. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., recently introduced.
“It’s the strongest legislation we’ve seen so far,” León said.
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