The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that an Arizona law punishing businesses that hire undocumented workers is constiutional.
In their 5-3 ruling, the court rejected the notion that states have no role in immigration matters.
The decision comes as this high court is prepared to hear arguments on an even more controversial Arizona law that would give police officers the power to check the immigration status of suspected criminals.
The 2007 Legal Arizona Workers Act, also known as the “employer sanctions law,” forces businesses to use the federal government’s E-Verify program. The law threatens Arizona employers with the permanent loss of their business license if they knowingly hire undocumented workers.
Opponents argued that the state law was in violation of the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution because the federal government has exclusive authority over immigration enforcement.
“Arizona has taken the route least likely to cause tension with federal law,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. “It relies solely on the federal government’s own determination of who is an unauthorized alien, and it requires Arizona employers to use the federal government’s own system for checking employee status.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Immigration Law Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) all joined together to argue against the law.
“In enacting comprehensive regulation of immigrant employment in 1986, Congress expressly prohibited state laws such as the Legal Arizona Workers Act,” Linton Joaquin, general counsel for National Immigration Law Center, said in a statement.
“Congress created E-Verify as a voluntary program for good reason,” MALDEF director of litigation Cynthia Valenzuela Dixon explained. “The government’s own studies show that E-Verify is riddled with problems, and that the error rates are significantly higher for naturalized citizens, foreign-born workers with employment authorization, and workers with non-English surnames. Allowing states and local jurisdictions to mandate what Congress made voluntary would blatantly disregard the civil rights protections that Congress purposely put into place.”
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