Las Vegas Business Press May 24, 2005
New law changes workplace rules
By Valerie Miller
A bill that could turn state drivers licenses into machine-readable national identification cards could make it tougher for illegal immigrants to find work in Southern Nevada.
For some that's good news, particularly in today's post 9-11 world. Others see it as a challenge that could harm the region's economy.
The REAL I.D. Act passed by Congress earlier this month would make it mandatory for people to prove they are legally inside this country before being issued the licenses.
Pitched as a homeland security measure, the act is expected to be signed into law by President Bush and would take effect in 2008.
For at least two decades, drivers licenses have been used nationally as a key piece of identification before people can be hired for work.
Some observers fear that without drivers licenses tens of millions of illegal immigrants throughout the country will be unable to find jobs, potentially making it tougher to find workers for Southern Nevada's construction, retail, restaurant, landscaping and hotel industries.
Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Cara Roberts said the measure might do little to deter terrorism but could place a financial burden on the 50 states.
"We should look at this as a federal government unfunded mandate that the state and local governments will have to pay for," she says.
The new program could be costly for taxpayers as state motor vehicles departments are forced to implement the new law, potentially through a single, secure facility in each state, drastically slowing the process.
"I would expect a significant impact on the wait time, especially if they require proof of identity at renewal," says Kevin Malone, spokesman for Nevada's Department of Motor Vehicles. "Right now, you come in, we take a picture and we hand it to you. [With REAL] we would have to mail it," he said.
The Nevada DMV issued 128,552 non-commercial drivers licenses and 6,639 commercial drivers licenses in 2004.
An estimated 8 million to 11 million illegal immigrants live in the United States, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. About 400,000 of Clark County's 1.7 million residents are Hispanic, according to the UNLV Center for Business and Economic Research.
"We'll have to wait and see [whether] Las Vegas will become an [economic] desert," says Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce President Eloiza Martinez. "It will be sad when there are no more workers. I mean, who else wants to do that work?"
It's not unusual for illegal immigrants throughout the valley to purchase fake documents, including drivers licenses and Social Security cards, for about $100 apiece. Both are accepted as new employee identification.
Supporters of the new law say much of its success will hinge upon the efforts of employers.
"It will be up to the employers if they are going to enforce the U.S. law," says Caroline Espinosa, spokeswoman for Numbers USA, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-immigration group. "For those who are here legally, they will have to provide proof that they are here legally."
GlobalSecurity.org, a Virginia-based military think tank, also supports the measure, saying it could help prevent a repeat of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the northeastern United States.
"I think one of the reasons people are against it is because it could disrupt the legal immigrant workforce and profoundly disrupt the illegal immigrant market," John Pike, the group's director, says.
But Allen Lichtenstein, Nevada general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, sees the act as a way for government to trample on people's privacy.
"I think it is geared toward greater government surveillance of the public, it won't be a deterrent to terrorists," he says.
Bob Ansara, director of the Nevada Restaurant Association and its parent organization, the National Restaurant Association, says producers of fake documents could find ways to get around the law.
"The counterfeiters have never been far behind the government and that's been a big problem in the restaurant industry," says Ansara, who also owns Ricardo's Mexican restaurant in Las Vegas. "It's hard to tell the difference."
All U.S. employers require a completed I-9 Form from each of their employees before a worker can be hired. The U.S. Justice Department document requires one or more forms of valid identification, including U.S. passports or state-issued drivers licenses and U.S. Social Security cards.
© Copyright 2005, Las Vegas Business Press