Resolution sparks controversy
It's neither Italians running the show at Italian restaurants, nor the French in a French food joint - it's the Latinos in the kitchen who are doing the cooking and the dishes, said Martin Perez, the president of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey.
Perez said he is opposed to a proposed bill in the state Senate, Bill S-1312, which penalizes business owners who employ illegal immigrants.
If the bill is passed, business owners who intentionally or knowingly employ illegal immigrants could be put on a three-year probation, according to the bill, and courts could permanently revoke the business owner's license if a second offense occurs.
The bill, introduced in February by Democratic Majority Leader Stephen M. Sweeney, is currently in the Labor Committee of the Senate.
"The economy needs this workforce, and the [United States should] find a way to create a process in which people who are already here, law-abiding people who complement the economy, pay a fine, whatever [needs to be] paid, and they should be legalized," Perez said.
He said he thinks if the bill is passed, it will cause business owners - especially those in the restaurant business - to leave the state to pursue jobs in more loosely regulated states such as Pennsylvania.
Perez said he thinks it might jeopardize the economy to rid the state of undocumented workers. And he said he promotes a sweeping legalization of illegal immigrants, nationally as well as in state.
"We need comprehensive immigration reform, meeting the needs of the economy of our country," Perez said.
He said the laws governing immigration should come from a national arena: Only the federal government legalize immigrants.
He said Sweeney was a hypocrite for drafting the bill, as Sweeney is a labor leader.
Andrew Hendry, the chief of policy and legislation for Sweeney, said Sweeney is the type of politician still looking out for the little guy. Sweeney, a union leader, is goal-oriented toward the rights of workers, he said.
"His motivation with this legislation is trying to stop businesses from taking advantage of illegal aliens," Hendry said.
Sweeney based the bill on a law upheld by the courts in Arizona, which penalizes businesses who employ illegal aliens, taking away their licenses, Hendry said.
He said Sweeney is open to working with different immigrant interest groups to make sure consensus is reached about what the bill should contain.
"He's willing to work with them on the legislation, as well as trying to make it a bill that everyone will agree with," Hendry said.
Sweeny met with the Latino Caucus to hear their concerns, and plans to meet with Gov. Jon S. Corzine's Blue Ribbon Panel. The panel deals with state immigration policy, Hendry said.
President of New Brunswick Taxi Kameel Eid said the illegal immigrants hurt his business and he wishes someone would do something about the issue in New Brunswick.
He said some of his competitors in the city hire illegal immigrants and charge customers cheaper rates, under-cutting his business.
"It hurt[s] us. They hurt us a lot," he said. "They charge cheaper than us."