Civil Rights Coalition to Argue in Court Today that Arizona Employer Sanctions Law is Illegal

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
November 14, 2007 12:00 am

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PHOENIX –Today in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, a coalition of civil rights groups argued that the so-called Legal Arizona Workers Act illegally punishes businesses by improperly requiring their participation in a flawed work authorization verification database and would lead to discrimination against workers who are perceived as being foreign born.

The Act, which is scheduled to take effect January 1, introduced a new state law that regulates employment based on work authorization status – even though there is a comprehensive federal law on the same topic. The Act unlawfully seeks to impose sanctions far beyond what the federal government allows by completely closing down any business that, according to the state, has committed two violations in a three-year period. In addition, the Act requires all Arizona businesses to check their employees’ work authorization status by using the flawed federal Basic Pilot program (recently renamed e-Verify). The Basic Pilot system, which the federal government established as a voluntary, experimental, and temporary system to test the concept of electronic employee verification, is rife with errors and frequently leads to problems for lawful workers. Congress has repeatedly refused to make the system permanent or mandatory.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arizona, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and the law firm of Altshuler Berzon filed the lawsuit challenging Arizona’s new law in federal court in September on behalf of two Arizona organizations, Chicanos Por La Causa and Somos America. The coalition charges that the new law is preempted by federal immigration law and the U.S. Constitution. A coalition of business groups has also filed a suit challenging the law. At today’s hearing, Altshuler Berzon attorney Jonathan Weissglass will argue on behalf of the coalition and address both suits.

“The U.S. government hasn’t made the Basic Pilot system mandatory because the database’s information is highly unreliable and it can cause lawful workers to lose jobs and job opportunities,” said ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project attorney Omar Jadwat.

“Governor Napolitano herself publicly acknowledged that there were serious problems with making Basic Pilot mandatory when she signed the Act. Arizona’s leaders should be ashamed that they’ve passed a law bound to cause harm to innocent workers and businesses.”

The Basic Pilot system has been plagued with problems, including failing to identify legally authorized workers due to its reliance on the error-ridden databases of the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Homeland Security. The private research corporation Westat found that one in ten legally authorized workers are initially categorized by Basic Pilot as ineligible. Foreign born workers, including naturalized citizens, are more than 30 times more likely than native-born U.S. citizens to be incorrectly identified as ineligible.

“Rather than run the risk of being shut down forever, employers will simply avoid hiring people they think are immigrants, authorized or not,” said Kristina Campbell, MALDEF staff attorney. “The United States is supposed to be a country where there is equal opportunity, but this new law says that for jobs in Arizona, Latinos, regardless of their actual citizenship status, need not apply.”

Current federal law regulating the employment of unauthorized workers has extensive antidiscrimination provisions, protections for employers who unknowingly hire unauthorized workers, and a graduated series of penalties; however, the Arizona employer sanctions law has none of these safeguards.

“Arizona’s statute attempts to override national law and policy on the employment of immigrants,” said Linton Joaquin, Executive Director of NILC. “If states like Arizona can strike out on their own and pass their own immigration laws, workers and employers alike would face a patchwork of conflicting and incompatible requirements based on local politics and conditions, and it would be impossible to have a meaningful national policy.”

Lawyers on the case include Wiessglass and Stephen Berzon of Altshuler Berzon; Campbell and Cynthia Valenzuela of MALDEF; Joaquin, Monica T. Guizar and Karen C. Tumlin of NILC; Daniel Pochoda of the ACLU of Arizona; and Jadwat, Lucas Guttentag and Jennifer C. Chang of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

More information on the case, Chicanos por la Causa vs. Napolitano, is available online at:

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