Supreme Court Upholds Arizona Immigration Law

May 26, 2011 1:39pm

ABC News' Ariane de Vogue (@arianedevogue) reports: The Supreme Court today upheld a strict Arizona law that sanctions employers for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. The Obama administration, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of immigrants’ rights groups had argued that the law, called the Legal Arizona Workers Act,  interferes with existing federal law.  But Chief Justice John Roberts writing for a 5-3 Court said that Congress had “preserved the ability of the states to impose their own sanctions”  in an effort to control illegal immigration. “Arizona’s procedures simply implement the sanctions that Congress expressly allowed Arizona to pursue through licensing laws,” Roberts wrote. “Given that Congress specifically preserved such authority for the States, it stands to reason that Congress did not intend to prevent the States from using appropriate tools to exercise that authority.” The court also upheld the law’s mandatory requirement that employers use a federal data base called E-Verify that was created in 1996 to confirm that a worker is legally authorized.  Under federal law the use of the database is only voluntary. Although critics have said that E-Verify is still in a pilot program phase and could contain errors, Roberts pointed out in his opinion that the federal government has “consistently expanded and encouraged” the use of the program.  Justice Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor all dissented from the opinion. Justice Elena Kagan took no part in the decision because of her previous job as Solicitor General of the Obama administration. Breyer wrote that the Court’s decision would undermine Congress’ efforts “to protect lawful workers from national-origin-based discrimination” while also shielding ” lawful employers against erroneous prosecution or punishment.” He also said that “Congress had strong reasons for insisting on the voluntary nature” of the E-Verify program.  “E-Verify was conceived as, and remains, a pilot program. Its database consists of tens of millions of Social Security and immigration records kept by the Federal Government. These records are prone to error,” Breyer wrote. Robin Conrad, the executive vice president of the National Chamber Litigation Center released a statement expressing disappointment with the ruling.  Conrad fears that the decision will lead to a “growing patchwork” of immigration laws that will create a “serious obstacle” for those doing business across state lines.  “The decision makes it all the more urgent for Congress to bring much-needed clarity to immigration law through legislative reform, including preemption of employment-related state immigration laws,"Conrad said.

Under the Arizona law which was passed in 2007,  an employer who knowingly hires an illegal immigrant can have his business license suspended for a minimum of ten days and is given a three probationary period of five years. For a second intentional violation during that period the business license is permanently revoked. Supporters of the law say it is a part of a larger trend where states are getting strict on immigration reform because they feel the federal government is failing to do its job.  "The Supreme Court decision provides a realistic roadmap for states to take appropriate action in enacting legislation that is constitutional,” said Jay Sekulow of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice.  “It's clear that states can take action that compliments federal immigration law without violating it. The decision affirms that the Arizona law represents a valid and constitutional exercise of Arizona's police powers, " he said. Although today’s decision is specific to a law regarding employment verification, it has been closely anticipated for those watching another controversial Arizona immigration law wending its way through the lower courts. That law says in part that if a police officer has a reasonable suspicion that a person he has stopped is in the country illegally he can ask for immigration papers. 

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