BY REBECCA PALMER
KAYSVILLE – The debate about federal immigration law has been buzzing in the halls of power for weeks, seemingly angering everyone from conservatives to moderates and business interests, and everyone in between.
Resolution of the issue will certainly have an impact on all businesses, but they should be aware of a more pressing concern now, immigration attorney Timothy M. Wheelwright told a gathering of the Davis Chamber of Commerce late last month.
The issue is a new I-9 form for all foreign employees hired after March 8 of this year, and heightened regulatory action to go with it.
“The burden is on the employer,” Wheelwright said. “It’s not on anybody else. It’s not even on the government.”
The Obama administration has stepped up enforcement and prosecuted more businesses for violations in its first two years than in the Bush administration’s entire eight-year term, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
“Companies in Utah have been prosecuted under federal laws because they ignored notices such as names and social security numbers that don’t match,” the attorney said. “They’re doing it here in Utah. They’re very active in Utah.”
To get more information and to understand the basics, visit uscis.gov.
After taking care of immediate needs, business should also be concerned about the federal legislation, Wheelwright said.
“We have an incentive in our current law for people to stay here illegally,” he said. “The system is broken. It needs to be fixed.”
The attorney discussed the undocumented immigrant population of between 11 million and 15 million people in the U.S. today. He doesn’t favor giving them citizenship immediately, but wants a pathway to legalization.
He also discussed H1B visas, a favorite of Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a member of the so-called Gang of 8. These visas are for highly skilled immigrants, who are recruited heavily by the technology sector.
Businesses say they can’t hire Americans to fill the jobs, so need to bring in foreigners, primarily from India and China. However, the limit of 65,000 such visas is reached in a snap every year and industry wants to double or triple it.
Like cries of amnesty for unskilled illegal immigrants, H1B proposals have their critics. Companies should be held to stricter standards about looking for Americans, they say, and add that building a large staff of H1B employees often precedes direct outsourcing.
Few of the business owners who attended the chamber’s meeting have large staffs of immigrants, and none said they used the E-verify system.
Legal or otherwise, Davis County has a non-Caucasian population of less than 7 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 8 percent have Hispanic origin. However, just 4.4 percent of residents here are foreign-born.
According to the Pew Research Center, exactly 50 percent of people familiar with the immigration bill want to see it implemented, and they are most likely to be Democrats.
In Utah, Wheelwright is crossing his fingers for it.
“To me on the compassion side, the humanitarian side is really a no-brainer,” he said, “but even more compelling is the economic argument.”