Fallout from Arizona’s immigration law
Fallout from Arizona’s immigration law
28 APRIL 2010 8:07 AM

Hoteliers should take preventive measures against a new law that authorizes law enforcement officers to question and detain suspected illegal immigrants in Arizona.

According to hospitality industry human resources and legal experts, the signing of immigration enforcement legislation in Arizona has not only caused rancorous debate; it has the potential to impact hotel owners and HR directors throughout the nation.  

Charles Conine

The law authorizes Arizona law enforcement officers to question and detain a person if they reasonably suspect the individual is in Arizona illegally.  Republican governor Jan Brewer signed the law 23 April, the same day the Arizona Republic reported a truckload of undocumented immigrants had been seized in Elfrida, Arizona, about 20 miles north of the Mexico border.  

The Arizona problem

The magnitude of illegal immigration and employment in Arizona is difficult to underestimate. A 2009 study by Pew Research Center placed Arizona’s illegally employed at 9.8 percent of the state’s total workforce, nearly the same as neighboring California, even though Arizona employs six times fewer people.   

Nevertheless the new law has hospitality operators in Arizona shaking their collective heads.  “Why Arizona would do this, from a business perspective is a mystery to me,” said Alan Momeyer, vice president of human resources for Loews Hotels, operators of the 398-room Ventana Canyon resort in Tucson. “The people who will be most hurt,” Momeyer added, “are the dishwashers and room attendants and bell staffs who suffer when people don't visit our hotels.” 

The Arizona restaurant industry, its traffic buoyed by tourism and high hotel occupancy, will not escape injury.  Brian McDonough, senior director of employment for Marie Callender’s, a casual chain with seven locations in Arizona, acknowledged the intent of the law but suggested an ironic consequence:  “While this … law makes it more difficult for illegal aliens to enter the workforce in Arizona, we are concerned that legal immigrants will relocate elsewhere, causing a gap in available candidates for positions not easily replaced by the current population.” 

McDonough’s and Momeyer’s concerns were echoed by a third senior hospitality HR leader with company locations in Arizona, who requested his employer not be named.  His ability to recruit new employees, he said, has been affected since 2008 when Arizona became the first of two states—the other is Mississippi—to require all employers to use E-Verify, the voluntary identification system operated by the Department of Homeland Security.  “There are clearly fewer applicants available in the local labor pool,” he offered, but added that “the cost of training and then losing an undocumented worker makes it worth our while to spend the extra effort on the front end (to recruit the legally employable.)”

Potential legal fallout warrants preventive measures

Pavneet Uppal, managing partner of the Phoenix office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, a nationwide employment and labor law firm, said the publicity associated with the law means Arizona employers should watch for potential issues.  “Increased awareness of civil rights and the prospect of racial profiling may lead to an uptick in the filing of employment discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and lawsuits alleging discrimination on the basis of national origin.”

Labor and employment attorney James J. McDonald, Jr., managing partner for the Irvine, California, office of Fisher & Phillips warned hotel owners and HR directors nationwide to be vigilant as reaction to the Arizona law builds.  “This kind of legislation—and the media attention it gets—tends to increase hostility between Hispanic workers and workers of other races in workplaces where relations are already tense,” McDonald stated.   “Hospitality employers should consider providing extra training for managers and employees on the application of the employer's policy against harassment to harassment of employees based on their ethnicity.  Such training should provide examples of conduct that would violate a company policy against harassment, such as referring to Hispanic employees as illegal aliens, using slurs such as ‘wetback,’ and teasing Hispanic employees with taunts such as, ‘Immigration is looking for you.’   Certainly, employees caught using this sort of language should be disciplined for violation of the policy against harassment.”

McDonald added that employers should be “ensuring that their I-9 compliance is correct, that they are not requiring over-documentation of employees, and that ‘English-only’ polices are properly implemented.” 

He also cautioned against overreaction.  “While it is lawful to require employees who come into contact with guests to speak English, requiring that all employees speak only English on the job may be attacked as discriminatory.”

Janet Hoffmann, a former senior hospitality HR executive now heading Hoffmann & Associates, consultants on HR and organization development, advised employers to be legally compliant but to also get involved in finding solutions.  “Employers should continue to follow their hiring procedures of ensuring they verify identity and eligibility to work. They should also lend their voice to finding a balanced approach to immigration reform that addresses questions of border security and maintains a sustainable workforce.”

Charles A. Conine, SPHR is president of Hospitality HR Solutions and group leader for HR and employee relations at Cayuga Hospitality Advisors.  Email Chuck at chuckc@hospitalityhrsolutions.com.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of HotelNewsNow.com or its parent company, Smith Travel Research and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.


  • Lilith April 28, 2010 5:24 AM

    Wow. I work in the hotel industry in Houston and we have NO ONE that works for us illegally. I think Arizona will somehow manage.

  • Chuck Conine April 28, 2010 5:43 AM

    Thanks for beginning our discussion on this important topic, Lilith. Interestingly the Pew report discussed in the column found Texas to have approximately 925,000 illegally employed, 7.9% of the total workforce, slightly lower than Arizona's reported 9.8%. It would be helpful to the hotel industry and our discussion if you could share your recruiting best practices.

  • Amy April 28, 2010 9:17 AM

    So, basically Az hotels want to keep paying slave wages to illegals. BOO HOO! Illegals are killing AZ. If these hotels were using E-verify (which IS the law in AZ), they wouldn't have to worry about all the illegals working for them.

  • Tammy April 28, 2010 10:24 AM

    Shame on Arizona for employing illegals!!! Use e verify and you wont be hiring illegals- Remember ther is a difference between an immigrant and an illegal alien. I work in a large hotel in Dallas and I can guarantee that I have no illegals working in my hotel-
    Not sure where Amy gets "slave wages" being paid to illegals. I am sure you are paying the same wage to everyone, legal or illegal. Wage isnt the issue. The right to work and receive benefits is the issue. Way to go Arizona.

  • roneill April 28, 2010 12:16 PM

    This law with hurt AZ tourism especially international tourism. No one will want to be subjected to that scrutiny beyond their port of entry. We get a relatively free pass when we travel abroad. If we were subjected to this ourselves we would understand how mean spirited it is. It will likely lead to profiling and discrimination. It will also affect law enforcement as it obligates them to persue this. How will they ever have witnesses to a crime where illegals are involved. So many negatives. All for controling borders and deporting criminals but this law will cause much injustice, i am sure it will not last.

  • Yag April 28, 2010 1:11 PM

    Illegal is Illegal! Any Question? Just follow the laws and keep employment for legal American workers. I do not see how a bellman or dishwasher is affected unless they are illegal aliens. Concern about legal immigrants moving away is nothing but a 'taylor made hype' to support illegal immigrants. On the other hand due to illegal workers being flushed out, may create extra opportunity for legal workers and wages may actually rise attracting more legal workers to the state.

  • Jim B April 28, 2010 1:24 PM

    We are encouraging all illegal immigrants to go to California.. They will welcome Arizona's 500,000 illegals with open arms. We are stressing the fact that California has lots of jobs and will never ask for an ID. The schools are thriving and even offer bilingual education. So be on your way now.... California is waiting.

  • Taylor April 29, 2010 5:53 AM

    The money that illegal aliens earn does not stay here and boost our economy. I have employees (illegal) who receive food stamps, welfare etc. They have 3 kids and live with the daddy but arent married so they receive even MORE benefits. They use someone elses social security card which is identity theft. My legal employees can not read or write English, far less Spanish so everything must be done for them. Wake up people. We are on our way to becoming a third world country that will not have the workers with even the basic English skills we need to fill the jobs we have.I cant enter Canada illegally, nor do I expect to. If I went there I would not expect a job or benefits. How is the US any different? We have Mexican cartels now in the US. We must get a handle on our borders NOW!!

  • Chuck Conine April 29, 2010 10:38 AM

    Thank you to everyone who has commented during the debate, and thank you for keeping your comments respectful even as you have been direct and candid. Now, a question for you: what best practices are your hotels employing to address the issues discussed in my column? Thank you again for participating in this discussion.

  • Chris NJ April 30, 2010 7:09 AM

    While hospitality providers in Arizona might be justifiably concerned that they will experience a negative impact from the threatened boycots of Arizona-based companies and meeting facitlities, the concern voiced that somehow hospitality businesses in Arizona will "lose access" to an illegal labor pool, seems to me to be an admission that they have been knowingly contributing to the problem of illegal immigration in the first place.

    None of this provides an adequate excuse.

    After all, if you have been conscienciously verifying the eligibility of work applicants to be emloyed in this country, why would this change the availability of potential employees to you, unless you are concerned that OTHER employers who previously were hiring illegals, will now be compelled to hire only applicants legally entitled to work, thus reducing the overall number of legal applicants available to you.

    The answer of course is to COMPETE - provide a workplace environment and compensation adequate enough to attract and keep the best LEGAL employees, just like you should have been doing in the first place.

    Increasing violence and trafficking as a result of an unfettered flow of illegal workers, immigrants, and criminal elements presents a much greater potential for diminishing the travel and hospitality trade in Arizona (and other states), than does any short-term knee-jerk threat of boycott, or diminished pool of cheap, illegal labor.

    Compassion for those seeking opportunity and a better life is a fine thing, but condoning, enabling, or encouraging those who enter the country (and Arizona) in violation of both Arizona and federal law, is not fair to those who have gone through the prescribed process to immigrate and find employment in a legal manner.

    We are a nation built upon the concept of rule of law. Encouraging lawlessness may serve the narrow interests of a few, but it ultimately diminishes us all.

  • StefDallas May 3, 2010 3:16 AM

    I consulted with a third party - Check out www.LegalEmployer.com. These are I-9 compliance experts - they are also E-Verify Designated Agents and can help in this regard. Very economical and the company is run by former Hotel Industry Professionals - they understand exactly what we are up against. I attended one of their free I-9 webinars! This is an important subject - ICE is currently conducting I-9 audits and as no surprise the Hospitality industry is a top target. Everyone should have an I-9 Compliance plan - no matter what size your property.

  • Anonymous May 4, 2010 5:54 AM

    The only positive outcome I see from the Arizona Immigration Law as re as follows:

    1. Increased awareness from both Mexico City and Capitol Hill lawmakers that the new Arizona immigration law ignores the intertwined economies of Mexico and the American Southwest.

    2. I am hopeful that the unintended consequences of immigration reform may come up when Mexican President Felipe Calderon addresses a joint session of Congress on May 19. Calderon's address should accelerate progress with Federal Immigration Reform to address remittances and work visas with immigrants from all nations.

    3. Any future Immigration reform should factor in the security risks from international crime and Mexico's drug war.

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