For a while, it looked like the people of Prince William County, VA were serious.
The Board of Supervisors there appeared poised to demonstrate to that local government can do more to address the problem of illegal immigration. They had already moved to cut funding of public services to illegal immigrants, and to beef-up police resources, last July.
Then, the board voted unanimously to support a new policy that increases “residency checks,” and seeks to improve and streamline cooperation between the county, and federal immigration authorities.
However, when it came time to vote last week on budgeting the $14.2 million estimated to be necessary to actually put the new policy into action, the board voted instead to revisit the “funding issue” at a later date.
In essence, the board prepped for the race; they had the right equipment on; they had stretched, and were ready to run, and were lined-up at the starting block. And when the opening gun sounded, they took a step backward.
As one might expect, residents in Prince William County were furious. Some were threatening to “re-call” board members. Others offered to take-up donations to help the county fund the new policy. At best there was tremendous disappointment, at worst, outrage.
In the midst of it all was great speculation that, prior to the vote, members of the board had been listening to local business owners, business owners who were advising against the implementation of the new policy. Unfortunately, this speculation seemed to turn the wrath of some residents on the business owners themselves.
But why would business owners in Prince William County - - or anywhere else - - object to more stringent policing of illegal immigration? Such a stance immediately raises suspicions in the minds of many, and implies a level of guilt, as though business owners are necessarily reliant for their survival on “cheap labor,” and are willing to compromise federal law for their own selfish survival.
But to immediately view business owners with such cynicism is wrong, and can, more often than not, be inaccurate. Further, scenarios like these do not point to problems with business owners themselves, so much as they point to problems with federal law.
Imagine being an owner and operator of, say, a single dry cleaning shop, in Prince William County. And imagine the law enforcement agencies in your county “cracking down” on the presence of illegal immigrants.
Your natural reaction to the emergence of this new environment would likely be to, A) examine your employee roster very carefully to make certain that every member of your staff is in the country legally; and B) to be certain, as you interview prospective future employees, that they are here in the country legally as well.
That all sounds fine and good. Until you try to be so scrutinizing.
So, let’s be further hypothetical, for the sake of illustration. Imagine you interview a prospective employee who has applied for a position at your dry cleaning shop. And imagine that this person speaks English with a “foreign” accent, or perhaps that their physical appearance suggests that they might be from a different country. And imagine that, after appropriate investigation, you determine to the best of your ability that the individual is in the U.S. legally, but nonetheless you choose not to hire the person, for whatever reason(s).
Guess what? You’re at risk for a lawsuit. Given current federal law, this prospective employee whom you have chosen not to hire can make the claim that you have discriminated against them, based upon their ethnicity, or appearance, or any of a number of other criteria.
I made this case while hosting talk radio in the nation’s capitol last week, on 630 WMAL/Washington D.C. A caller to my show was quick to point out that such a claim against a business owner would “never hold up in court.”
Maybe it would, maybe it would not. But remember, you own and operate one, single dry cleaning shop - - and you can’t afford a large legal department to handle these things for you. Merely being forced to defend yourself against such an attack could drive-up a bankrupting legal bill.
Hypothetical? Sure. Plausible? Absolutely. And the best efforts of local governments to police illegal immigration all too often put the burden on the backs of local small business owners, which is wrong.
Likewise, those who say that the anecdote for illegal immigration is to merely “enforce federal laws” are missing the point. The problem is federal law itself - - both the enforcement of federal immigration law, and the essence of federal employment law.
Immigration is, most certainly, a “federal issue.” America’s business owners must not be made the scapegoat for our federal government’s failures.
Austin Hill is an Author, Consultant, and Host of "Austin Hill's Big World of Small Business," a syndicated talk show about small business ownership and entrepreneurship. He is Co-Author of the new release "The Virtues Of Capitalism: A Moral Case For Free Markets." , Author of "White House Confidential: The Little Book Of Weird Presidential History," and a frequent guest host for Washington, DC's 105.9 WMAL Talk Radio.