Arizona House Speaker Unveils Bill to Criminalize Employers Who Hire Illegals

Republican state Rep. Ben Toma says his ballot initiative would add teeth to existing law requiring electronic verification of an employee’s legal status.
Arizona House Speaker Unveils Bill to Criminalize Employers Who Hire Illegals
Illegal aliens wait outside a processing station near the Lukeville Port of Entry in southern Arizona on Dec. 7, 2023. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)
Allan Stein

Arizona House Speaker Ben Toma has introduced a bill that would strengthen and expand the state’s mandatory electronic verification system and make it a felony crime for any employer to knowingly hire illegal aliens.

HCR 2060, also known as the Protecting Arizona Against Illegal Immigration Act, is a ballot initiative that seeks to close gaps in the law that enable illegal aliens to obtain benefits through taxpayer-funded public assistance programs.

“In short, our border is being overrun by illegal aliens. It is painfully clear at this point that our governor and our president are doing nothing about it,” Mr. Toma, a Republican, said at a press conference at the statehouse in Phoenix on Feb. 19.

“When those that are responsible for the disaster at our border refuse to do their jobs, when they look the other way while our children are being killed by drugs, while there is human trafficking and crime filling our streets, I refuse to stand by and do nothing about it,” he said.

“We might not be able to do the federal government’s job, but we can definitely stop Arizona from becoming like California. If you want to take advantage of Americans, go somewhere else.”

Mr. Toma described HCR 2060 as “one of toughest laws on illegal immigration ever written.”

He said the bill closes loopholes that enable illegal aliens to work in Arizona, and will save billions annually on illegals who take advantage of the state’s public assistance programs.

“If you’re here illegally, you shouldn’t be able to take advantage of any of our programs,” he said.

Further, the bill would make it a Class 6 felony for any employer who “knowingly assists an illegal alien in breaking employment laws,” Mr. Toma said.

If the bill passes, “illegal aliens will have every reason to leave Arizona,” he said.

Taxpayer Cost of Illegal Immigration

The Federation for American Immigration Reform estimates that Arizona spends nearly $2.3 billion annually on expenditures for illegal aliens.

Last year, the U.S. Border Patrol encountered nearly 600,000 in southern Arizona, Mr. Toma said.

“If all those people were to remain in Arizona, the state spending would increase to over $5.3 billion a year,” he said.

HCR 2060 builds on the Arizona Workers Act, or E-Verify law enacted in 2008, which was later upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mr. Toma said the E-Verify law currently allows the state to suspend business licenses of employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers.

It also requires employers to verify that an employee is “lawfully present and eligible to work” in the United States.

The ballot referral would strengthen E-Verify by enabling the state attorney general and county attorneys to investigate violations and create a significant financial penalty of $10,000 per violation.

The bill seeks to extend the E-Verify requirement to include independent contractors and subcontractors paid more than $600 annually.

It would also hold state and local agencies “more accountable on how they spend tax dollars and require all agencies to use E-Verify.”

Finally, the House Speaker said, the bill would strengthen law enforcement by making it a Class 6 felony “if someone refuses to use E-Verify when required by law or does anything to obstruct another person’s legal duty to use E-Verify.”

“Instead of a slap on the wrist, violations have real consequences and can be used to reimburse the cost of enforcement,” Mr. Toma said.

“The idea here is that everyone who is working in Arizona should be working legally. I am very confident we will get a product that does what the law is intended to do across the finish line.”

“This is a ballot referral. As such, it doesn’t matter what the governor thinks on this,” he said.

On Feb. 19, the bill went to the House Appropriations Committee.

Mr. Toma was selected as house speaker in 2022. He is a conservative Republican candidate running for Arizona’s U.S. House District 8 in the 2024 election.