Pool builders, among other construction trades, are railing against a California bill they believe puts them in the crossfire between the state and federal governments as they battle over immigration.

The Immigrant Worker Protection Act (AB 450) would require employers to take certain steps in the event of a notice of investigation or workplace raid by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Among other obligations, business owners would be required to:

• Ask ICE for a judicial warrant before granting the agency access to a worksite;

• Request the agency to get a subpoena before examining employee records;

• Immediately notify the state labor commissioner’s office of ICE’s intent to visit, or actual visit;

• Allow representatives of the labor commissioner access to the worksite so they could educate employees on their rights. At this time, the state also may take the opportunity to perform a full investigative audit of the employer’s labor compliance.

Employers also would be required to provide detailed information on the results of the investigation to all workers within 24 hours.

Failure to comply could result in a maximum penalty of $25,000 per violation and the loss of professional licenses for a period of 14 to 90 days.

“Even a 14-day suspension could prove catastrophic for a contractor,” said Nick Spiritos, a Southern California attorney representing construction contractors, including pool builders.

He and other lawyers question the law’s constitutionality. Currently, federal law allows ICE and other agencies to enter a business and inspect records, such as I-9 forms, without a warrant or subpoena. The provisions outlined in AB 450 would place employers in direct conflict with that, Spiritos said.

So it forces business owners to choose between violating state or federal law.

Critics of AB 450 say the state is essentially forcing employers to participate in its rebellion against the federal government’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants. In a statement, the California Professional Association of Specialty Contractors (CALPASC) said the bill “basically is trying to deputize employers to be sanctuary employers for immigration.”

Combating AB 450 has become CALPASC’s top priority. At press time, the group planned to meet with 50 legislators as part of its annual Specialty Contractors United Day at the state capital on May 17.

“It’s going to be a hard-fought bill down to the wire,” said Bruce Wick, risk management director for CALPASC.

The California Pool and Spa Association signed a petition in opposition as well. “This is another example of how far California has gone off the rails,” said Mike Geremia, past CPSA chairman and owner of Geremia Pools in Sacramento.

It’s unknown how many undocumented immigrants work in the pool and spa industry, but construction is a field where many find work. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, undocumented immigrants make up 21% of the construction workforce, right behind agriculture, which employs 45% of the state’s immigrants.

“We appreciate what the author is trying to do, but the unintended consequences of the bill will make things worse,” Wick said, adding that it’s not the organization’s desire to see undocumented immigrants deported. “The more the employer stands up to ICE, the more ICE digs in and expands … their search.”

He also fears that the bill would divert resources from the labor commissioner that would be better spent thwarting the underground economy. “That’s why it’s a counterproductive thing,” Wick said.