The judge hearing the federal challenge against California immigrant protection laws put his finger on a problem resulting from one of those laws: “The statute really puts the employer between a rock and a hard place,” the judge said. While greater attention at the Sacramento trial focused on California’s sanctuary state law, the dilemma faced by businesses since the implementation of AB 450, dealing with immigration worksite enforcement actions, also was examined at trial.

The bill prohibits an employer from providing access to a federal government immigration enforcement agent to any non-public areas of a business if the agent does not have a warrant.

U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez pointed out the dilemma business faces. On one hand, if the employer allows immigration agents without a warrant into the job site the state could levy fines beginning at $2,000. The Labor Commission and the Attorney General have the authority to carry out this law. However, if federal agents were looking to see if an employer hired people without legal residency the employer can face federal penalties.

Remember in January when California Attorney General Xavier Becerra reminded businesses that they faced up to a $10,000 fine if they allowed federal agents into their work places without a warrant? Becerra said he wasn’t threatening business although many employers took the public, widely reported admonishment as a threat.

As the bill was being debated in the legislature, business representatives raised concerns that businesses were put in a no-win situation facing potential big penalties from both the feds and state while dealing with new legal liabilities. They were concerned that not all officers in a business would understand the state law and when a duly sworn officer of the federal government entered the business with demands the employer would naturally comply—to the business’s peril.

While many business associations initially opposed the legislation, changes made during the legislative process saw a number of the organizations, such as the California Chamber of Commerce, step back to a neutral position. However, groups representing small business remained opposed. Small business doesn’t have resources to keep up with all the regulations thrown at them.

The National Federation of Independent Business stated that AB 450 “Unfairly punishes employers for cooperating with federal immigration agents…It will only serve to paint a target on employers, while creating new legal liabilities and huge penalties.”

Along with AB 450 and the sanctuary state law, SB 54, there was also discussion at trial of AB 103, which prevents jurisdictions from contracting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house immigrant detainees in local jails and allows the state officials to inspect detention facilities in the state.

The judge’s questions on AB 450 to the lawyer representing the state clearly focused on business concerns. Observers raised the possibility that the judge could issue different rulings on the number of legislative actions presented at trial. Business employers caught in the squeeze between federal and state laws are hoping for some relief.