Arizona marks its first employer sanctions deal

AP News
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Posted: Dec 18, 2009 10:42 AM

Prosecutors landed Arizona's first civil settlement under a nearly two-year-old state law that prohibits employers from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.

Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas said Thursday that a Glendale amusement park that violated the law will have its business license suspended for 10 days and be placed on three years of civil probation. In the settlement, the business acknowledged a violation of the employer sanctions law.

The park, known as Waterworld, has closed since sheriff's deputies in June 2008 raided the property and another amusement park that are both owned by the same parent company. The suspension would take effect if the amusement park were to go back into business.

"When the law went into effect, I tried to be candid and let people of this county know that it would be a while to develop these cases," Thomas said. "They are akin to complex fraud or white-collar cases, and typically you have to work those from the bottom up, and it takes a while. That's essentially what happened here."

The law is intended to lessen the economic incentive for immigrants to sneak into the country. Supporters of the law say it was needed because the federal government hasn't adequately enforced a similar federal law.

Although more than two dozen potential employer sanctions cases were under investigation in metropolitan Phoenix, two employer sanctions cases have been filed since the law took effect in January 2008. The chief difficulty cited by prosecutors in bringing cases against employers is their lack of civil subpoena power to make suspected violators hand over records and give testimony.

In any case, the law has prompted or contributed to an unknown number of illegal immigrants leaving Arizona for their home countries or other American states.

In the settlement filed in court Thursday, prosecutors alleged that Waterworld hired a woman who was an illegal immigrant on three occasion, twice in 2007 and once in 2008.

After the Social Security number she gave when hired was determined to be inaccurate, prosecutors say the company fired her in the spring of 2007 and rehired her six days later under a different name, even though the business operators knew they were hiring the same person. The woman was then hired again by the business in the spring of 2008.

In one instance, prosecutors say the 36-year-old woman was hired even though her false identity put her age at 62.

Golfland Entertainment Centers, the parent company of Waterworld and its sister park that was raided in 2008, issued a brief statement saying it cooperated with authorities once the employer sanctions allegations were brought its attention.

When the two businesses were raided, the company issued a statement saying it was following the requirements of the employer sanctions law.

In the settlement, the business agreed to enroll an affiliated amusement park, Mesa Golfland, in a compliance program for two years in which the business promises to verify the work eligibility of its employees through federal records and hand over such documents if an employer sanctions complaint is filed against it.

"It's not a toothless agreement," Thomas said.

Even though Mesa Golfland was raided by investigators, the park hasn't been accused of an employer sanctions violation.

Mesa Golfland remains open. Waterworld closed in the late summer of 2008.

The tip for the case came from a former Golfland Entertainment employee.