With Eye On SB 1070, AZ Reacts to Supreme Court Ruling On Employer Sanctions Law

Immigration raids

A 2010 protest against immigration raids. (Photo: SEIU/flickr)

PHOENIX, Arizona—Supporters of tougher immigration enforcement say last Thursday’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding Arizona’s Employer Sanctions Law gives a “green light” to states to supplement federal enforcement of immigration laws.  Opponents argued the decision concerning the law that penalizes companies for knowingly hiring undocumented workers was narrow and won’t set a legal precedent.

Then-governor Janet Napolitano—now the Secretary of Homeland Security—signed the Legal Arizona Workers Act (LAWA) into law in 2007. It requires businesses to use e-verify, a federal database to run checks on prospective employees to determine if they are legally authorized to work. Several federal courts upheld the law, despite a challenge from the business community in Arizona.

“This is a huge victory for America and the American worker. It is a defeat for the open-borders, profits-over-patriotism crowd. It is a death penalty for employers who continue to hire illegals and displace American workers, “said Senator Russell Pearce, a Republican and main sponsor of the bill.

Republican Representative, John Kavanagh said this is also good news for the future of  SB 1070. “I think this ruling is a clear green light to states to proceed in the current course of helping the federal government,” he said.

SB 1070, signed into law in March of last year by Governor Jan Brewer, makes it a crime to be in the state without documents. The law, which has inspired similar bills in other states, has been partially blocked in the federal courts, and is widely expected to be headed for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Civil Rights attorney Daniel Ortega, said the high court’s LAWA ruling on a 5-3 vote speaks only in a limited way to what states can do to regulate the businesses licenses of companies that hire undocumented labor. Ortega argues the Supreme Court ruled in a very narrow way to say that the Arizona state law wasn’t in conflict with the priorities of the federal government.

He said if anything, the ruling strengthens the argument against SB 1070, that it is an example of the state overstepping into an area under federal jurisdiction.

Governor Brewer, in a statement, came to a very different conclusion.

“In light of today’s decision, I am more adamant than ever that states do have a complimentary role in enforcing federal immigration laws, despite the Obama Administration’s opposition at every turn.”

Since LAWA took effect in 2008, only a handful of businesses have been sanctioned for violating the law.  The impact has been mostly felt by undocumented workers who have been detained in worksite raids by Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies under the direction of  Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  Over 300 workers have been arrested during the past three years.

Todd Landfried a spokesperson for Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform (AZEIR) , a group representing over 200 businesses that were plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the law, said the ruling doesn’t change the status quo for businesses:

“Quiet frankly the ruling wasn’t unexpected, we already been living under this, so there’s no significant change that the business community expects.  This points out that even bad laws can be constitutional”

Lydia Guzmán, the president of Respect/Respecto a local organization that monitors violation of civil and human rights in the state said there have been numerous problems with the law that have gone beyond the separation of immigrant families.

“Since January 2008, we’ve received several phone calls from people in the community that were denied an opportunity to work, people that are U.S. citizens or legal residents,” said Guzmán.

She attributes this problem to glitches in the e-verify database in instances when people change their name or get married, and argues that once the problem occurs there’s a lengthy process to correct errors.

Recently, a federal judge ruled against Arpaio’s office for wrongfully arresting a citizen and his U.S. resident father in a raid targeting undocumented workers.

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