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Supreme Court Upholds Arizona Law Restricting Hiring of Illegal Aliens


The Supreme Court in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting voted 5-3 and upheld an Arizona law that penalizes employers for knowingly hiring unauthorized foreign workers.

Under the Legal Arizona Workers Act, the state can revoke the licenses of businesses that intentionally hire illegal aliens. The Arizona law also included a provision requiring companies to implement the federal E-Verify system to check the immigration status of potential job applicants.

The Court held that federal immigration law does not pre-empt the Arizona statute and that the Legal Arizona Workers Act can coexist with federal law. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts Jr. looked at the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) which explicitly bars states from imposing criminal or civil sanctions for hiring illegal workers with the exception of “licensing or similar laws.” The Court held that the Legal Arizona Workers Act constitutes such a licensing exception and therefore does not conflict with the federal law. Arizona’s law utilizes the federal definition of an “unauthorized alien” and is drafted in a manner as to be consistent with federal law.

The ruling could encourage states to impose their own restrictions on hiring illegal aliens. The Chamber of Commerce pushed for uniform federal regulation of immigration as opposed to allowing states to individually pass their own laws in the matter. Civil rights groups argued that the Legal Arizona Workers Act law would encourage employers to utilize stereotypes and racial discrimination when rejecting job applications to escape sanctions imposed by the state. The Obama administration also strongly opposed the Arizona law and maintained that the law disrupts “the careful balance” of federal immigration law.

Justice Breyer and Ginsburg dissented, arguing that the Court’s ruling encourages employers to “erect ever stronger safeguards against the hiring of unauthorized aliens—without counterbalancing protection against unlawful discrimination.” In a separate dissent, Justice Sotomayor contended that the federal E-Verify requirement imposes burdens on the federal government not intended by Congress for the voluntary program. Additionally, Sotomayor maintained that the Legal Arizona Workers Act interferes with the federal means for ascertaining whether an employer hired an illegal alien.

Arguably the ruling encourages states to enact their own regulations tailored to their own immigration situations. Currently eight other states utilize license revocation to discourage illegal hiring.

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