Appellate Court Declines to Overturn Arizona Employer Sanctions Law

September 17, 2008 12:00 am

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SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today declined to overturn an Arizona anti-immigrant employment law but expressly left open the possibility of further challenges “if and when the statute is enforced.” The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arizona, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) had urged the court to block the so-called Legal Arizona Workers Act because the law violates due process and improperly interferes with federal law. Several business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, had also challenged the state law in cases that were consolidated before the Court of Appeals.

The court noted that the statute “has yet to be enforced against any employer” and noted that the challenge was “brought against a blank factual background of enforcement….” It emphasized that “[i]f and when the statute is enforced, … other challenges to the Act as applied in any particular instance or manner will not be controlled by [the Court’s] decision.”

The employer sanctions law requires Arizona businesses to enroll in the voluntary federal E-verify system, an error-ridden federal database that is in an experimental stage and explicitly designated as voluntary under federal law. The statute also contains a slew of state procedures and penalties applicable to businesses that are accused of hiring unauthorized workers and permanently shuts down any business that is twice found in violation of the state law. Friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the plaintiffs were filed on behalf of numerous additional civil rights and business groups including several state chambers of commerce, the National Federation Of Independent Business, the Small Business Legal Center, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, the Asian American Legal Defense Education Fund, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Women’s Employment Law Center.

The statements below can be attributed to the following participants in the lawsuit:

Omar Jadwat, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project:
“We are disappointed the court didn’t overturn Arizona’s misguided and unconstitutional sanctions regime at this stage. This ruling leaves unaddressed several important legal issues raised by Arizona’s law. While the decision is a setback, it is important to understand that this is only one of several appellate decisions involving similar laws that we expect to be issued in the coming months. We expect that those decisions will reject state and local attempts to meddle in immigration policy.”

Dan Pochoda, Legal Director of the ACLU of Arizona:
“Arizona mandates that every employer use the error-prone E-Verify but fails to provide a reasonable way for the many workers with errors in their Social Security records to prove that they are authorized to work. Legal workers, including U.S. citizens, will pay the price for this law if it is enforced. People’s livelihoods and the Arizona economy should not depend on an experimental system.”

Kristina Campbell, staff attorney with MALDEF:
“The Legal Arizona Workers Act not only violates the U.S. Constitution, but is subjecting all Arizona employees, and Latinos in particular, to potential discrimination based on their race, ethnicity or national origin. States shouldn’t be passing laws that encourage employers to fire or avoid hiring workers because of an accent or the color of their skin. What we need is comprehensive immigration reform that will take immigrants out of the shadows and help them get into workforce legally.”

Linton Joaquin, General Counsel of NILC:
“This law does nothing to solve perceived immigration problems. It’s time we recognize that immigrants contribute greatly to this country’s economy and culture and pass just and humane immigration reform.”

Lawyers from the civil rights coalition on the case include Jadwat, Lucas Guttentag and Jennifer C. Chang Newell of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project; Pochoda of the ACLU of Arizona; Jonathan Weissglass, Stephen Berzon and Rebecca Smullin of Altshuler Berzon LLP; Campbell and Cynthia Valenzuela of MALDEF; and Joaquin and Karen C. Tumlin of NILC.

More information about the lawsuit is available online at:

More information on the ACLU’s work against anti-immigrant laws can be found online at:

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