Ariz. Immigration Law on Hiring Illegal Workers Upheld by High Court

The U.S. Supreme court, in a 5-3 vote, upheld an Arizona immigration law Thursday that imposes sanctions – including suspending or revoking a business license – against businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

The Legal Arizona Workers Act requires all Arizona employers to use a federal electronic verification system to confirm that the workers they employ are legally authorized workers.

The Obama administration, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of other groups argued that the law interferes with existing federal law. But Chief Justice John Roberts disagreed, saying in the ruling, “Congress expressly preserved the ability of the States to impose their own sanctions through licensing; that – like our federal system in general – necessarily entails the prospect of some departure from homogeneity.”

“Because we conclude that the State’s licensing provisions fall squarely within the federal statute’s savings clause and that the Arizona regulation does not otherwise conflict with federal law, we hold that the Arizona law is not preempted,” Roberts added.

The majority opinion included Roberts as well as justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas. Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a joint dissent. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a separate dissent.

“This decision represents an important victory for Arizona and other states that desire to protect their borders and citizens,” said Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law & Justice.

“The Supreme Court decision provides a realistic roadmap for states to take appropriate action in enacting legislation that is constitutional,” he continued. “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.”

In 2007, then-Gov. Janet Napolitano and current secretary of Homeland Security signed the Arizona law saying the state had been forced to deal with the issue – even though immigration is a federal responsibility – because of the demand for cheap, undocumented labor.

The law went into effect on January 1, 2008.

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