Effort Aimed at Discouraging Hiring of Illegal Immigrants

John Hanna, AP, October 31, 2007

Josh Link sometimes spends 15 or 20 minutes shaping a single stone for a wall. He’s proud of using a Flemish bond pattern—not the standard American one—for a brick walkway. And he points out that Winston Churchill laid bricks as a hobby.

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He lists his company, Masonry Art, of Kansas City, Mo., on a 5-month-old Web site operated by a Dallas-based nonprofit, ProAmerica Companies. He took a pledge not to knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

His decision earlier this year made him part of ProAmerica’s fledgling effort to encourage firms not to hire illegal immigrants and to help consumers patronize businesses that don’t. The thinking is that illegal immigrants won’t come to the United States if they can’t find jobs.

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ProAmerica’s effort began while Congress struggled with illegal immigration. Comprehensive legislation failed in June, and last week, a measure designed to give some children of illegal immigrants a path to legal status stalled in the Senate, probably dooming further work this year.

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A Gallup poll in June said about a third of the nearly 2,400 Americans surveyed thought illegal immigrants were hurting their or their families’ job opportunities. Nearly half said immigration should be decreased.

But Michael Barrera, chief executive of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said Americans have expressed frustration with immigration throughout history and Latinos are “the flavor of the decade.” He said illegal immigrants fill jobs requiring manual labor that Americans don’t fill.

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Stepping into the ongoing debate was David Marlett, a Dallas attorney, accountant and political consultant. He formed ProAmerica in June and launched its Web site.

Businesses can list themselves as not hiring illegal immigrants and receive help in verifying workers’ status as legal. Marlett said Wednesday that ProAmerica also plans a Web-based catalog of Christmas gifts offered by participating companies.

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A ProAmerica chapter formed in the Kansas City area in September, and about 600 businesses now are listed on the Web site. Besides Link’s business, they include an aircraft parts distributor in Dallas, an advertising firm in Panama City, Fla., and a sandwich shop in Geneva, Neb.

This week, as California battled wildfires, his group issued a statement saying the state should verify the status of workers hired to clean up debris and rebuild businesses.

Still, he said, many responses to illegal immigration should come from outside government: “How about we as a collective society say, ‘OK, now wait a minute. We have laws. We need to follow them.’ What are we teaching our kids?”

Link said he doesn’t know whether listing Masonry Art on the Web site is boosting his business, though he has received supportive e-mails. His company has eight employees, though he sometimes hires as many as 20 for a particular job.

He uses the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s electronic verification system to check the status of each employee.

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But Barrera is skeptical that ProAmerica’s approach to immigration is helpful.

For example, he said, pledging not to hire illegal immigrants could open businesses to anti-discrimination lawsuits as they try to keep the promise. Companies already face plenty of government oversight, he said.

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