Monday, August 20, 2007

With federal immigration reform at a standstill, many state and local officials are taking matters into their own hands. Last Tuesday, for example, Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold, a Republican, issued an executive order requiring all local contractors sign an affidavit affirming that they won’t hire illegal aliens. Contracts with businesses found in breach of the policy will be cancelled.

Technically, this just reiterates what is already federal law and doesn’t require contractors to provide employee citizenship status. The companies will only be liable if Immigration and Customs Enforcement catches on, and based on precedent, faith in that agency’s abilities to catch on to very much is misplaced. Mr. Leopold’s executive order is, after all, in response to the inability of the federal government to enforce immigration law.

Several other states have policies in place which require contractors to confirm the status of their employees, and for good reason: Companies that do not exploit illegal labor are at a clear disadvantage. Steve Levy, county executive in Suffolk County, New York, ordered a similar affidavit in September. He made it clear that businesses would not be punished for obeying the law.

What should come as no surprise is the reaction from many immigration advocacy groups, namely CASA of Maryland, whose Executive Director Gustavo Torres has criticized Mr. Leopold and his program as discriminatory toward immigrants. He may be right that “trying to resolve a federal issue with an executive order… is something that’s not productive,” but it’s nonetheless important — and probably inevitable — that local officials listen to their constituents when federal lawmakers won’t.

CASA of Maryland, meanwhile, is the contractor for several taxpayer-funded day-labor centers in Montgomery County. The organization is adamantly against checking immigration status, so Mr. Leopold’s new policy could mean the loss of some lucrative contracts. Fortunately, Anne Arundel county’s law-abiding contractors won’t have anything to worry about, and can reap the benefits of staying on the right side of the law.

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