By Valeria Fernández
New America Media
PHOENIX, Ariz — The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Monday to review a controversial Arizona statute aimed at imposing severe sanctions on employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrant workers. This law has already set precedence for similar local legislation being passed in other states across the country.
The Monday hearing was the first time that the highest tribunal in the country considered addressing the constitutionality of a state bill — the Legal Arizona Workers Act (LAWA) — that deals with immigration issues.
LAWA was signed by former Gov. Janet Napolitano, now secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and took effect on Jan.1, 2008. It was challenged by a coalition of business groups, but it didn’t get as much national attention as the passage in April of SB 1070, which will allow law enforcement to arrest and detain undocumented immigrants in Arizona.
Paul Bender, a professor at the Arizona State University College of Law, expects the opinion issued by the U.S. Supreme Court on the employer sanctions law to be narrow in scope — and therefore would not be used to invalidate other laws like SB 1070.
The court is expected to start hearing arguments at the end of this year, but the ruling may not come until 2011.
While proponents argued that LAWA would discourage employers from hiring undocumented workers in Arizona, the law has been used instead to conduct highly publicized raids and arrests of employees who are charged with identity theft and are working with false documents.
The latest worksite raid conducted by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office took place at a garbage collection business, which resulted in the arrest of seven alleged undocumented workers, two of them charged with identity theft.
“A lot of critics and politicians seem to forget that, in these identity theft cases, we have real victims who have had some form of their identification stolen. They always throw up the argument that illegal immigration is a victimless crime. Ask those who are victims of identity theft about that,” Sheriff Joe Arpaio said in a press release.
A U.S. District Court and the San Francisco-based Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of LAWA. But business groups and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) requested that the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse this decision.
On Nov. 2, 2009, the Supreme Court asked the Obama administration to state its views on the law. In May this year, the Solicitor General office in the Department of Justice issued an opinion against LAWA, arguing that it is not a licensing law, but it is aimed at prohibiting the hiring of undocumented workers.
LAWA, according to the Obama administration, is in conflict with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), and lacks key protection against discrimination.