Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman is backing away from a key immigration proposal she advanced in this spring's competitive GOP primary after farmers and other business interests expressed displeasure with her idea.
As she campaigned this spring, Whitman said she would send state and local officials into California businesses to look for illegal immigrants — her own version of federal immigration workplace inspections.
But her campaign now says she would wait to act until the federal government institutes a "fail-safe" way for employers to verify workers' status — an effort that has been more than a decade in the making.
A glossy 48-page policy agenda book that Whitman mailed to hundreds of thousands of voters and posted on her campaign website this spring includes a one-page list of measures aimed at illegal immigrants.
"Modeled after drug seizure raids," Whitman's book says, "Meg will institute a system where state and local law enforcement agencies conduct inspections of workplaces suspected of employing undocumented workers."
"First-time offenders will be required to pay a fine and have their business licenses suspended for 10 days," it continues. "Third-time offenders will have their business licenses permanently suspended and pay a substantial fine and other penalties."
Whether Whitman ever had the authority to institute such a program is doubtful, civil rights advocates say.
The state regulates many aspects of the workplace now,from schedules to water breaks and shade requirements for farmworkers in the fields.
But immigration workplace checks are, by law, a federal — not state or local — responsibility.
The prospect of state raids also isn't popular with core Whitman business supporters, including the California Farm Bureau.
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