During the summer, a series of U.S. towns and local jurisdictions began passing immigration-related legislation. Some have been restrictive and controversial, with Hazleton, Pennsylvania of particular note.
Now the immigration debate is heating up in a Massachusetts town, where residents are expected to vote on a proposal that could revoke the license of any business that employs illegal immigrants. The penalties for employers are very similar to the ones being assessed against employers in other cities.
The proposal has sparked an intense debate across the country, with letters and e-mails pouring into the offices of the Sandwich, Massachusetts, board of selectmen (local government representatives). One selectmen said he would vote no because a yes vote would paint the Cape Cod town as "un-business friendly."
What makes this situation different from most of the other towns passing similar legislation is that there are few illegal immigrants in the town. And some town officials want to keep it that way.
Recently, the board of selectmen unanimously approved special legislation that would ban businesses from hiring illegal immigrants. At a Town Hall meeting scheduled for Monday night, residents will decide whether they want to approve the proposal. Some said they didn't see any need for such a law.
"I've been in this town a long time, and I have not seen any illegals around. I think they have a lot more to do in this town than to be looking for that," business owner Heidi Arnold said.
If voters approved the legislation, it would then require the state Legislature's approval to become a law, which would be enforceable only in Sandwich. If federal authorities determined that a business had hired illegal immigrant workers, the businesses license could be pulled, suspended or denied. The Pennsylvania laws are generally harsher.
Originally, selectmen wanted to fine businesses $1,000 for each illegal immigrant hired but that provision was removed on the advice of the town attorney. Reportedly, fines are already covered under federal immigration law.
"The message we would like to send is this: We don't welcome businesses that hire illegal immigrants. It's illegal. Simple." said Randy Hunt, chairman of the board of selectmen.
The legislation was first proposed in response to local businesses owners, mainly in the construction industry, who complained that they could not compete with businesses that hired illegals. Legally employed workers in many low-skilled professions in the United States are much more expensive, both in direct wages and in administrative and insurance costs.
Pressure is building on businesses that hire illegal employees because they have an unfair and illegal advantage when bidding on and completing projects. On the other hand, many people and businesses are happy to pay less to get work done and are willing to turn a blind eye to the legal status of people performing the work.
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