Civil Rights Coalition Files New Lawsuit Challenging Arizona Employer Sanctions Law

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
December 12, 2007 12:00 am

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PHOENIX – A coalition of civil rights groups filed a new lawsuit in a Phoenix federal court today charging that the so-called Legal Arizona Workers Act unlawfully requires businesses to participate in a flawed work authorization verification database, lacks due process protections, improperly threatens businesses with a “business death penalty” that interferes with federal law, and would lead to discrimination against workers who are perceived as being foreign born.

An earlier lawsuit challenging Arizona’s employer sanctions law was filed in September by 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. Last Friday the U.S. District Court dismissed the case without ruling on the legality of the law. The coalition expects that today’s filing, brought by the coalition on behalf of Valle del Sol, Chicanos Por La Causa and Somos America, will address the court’s procedural concerns and allow the court to rule on its legal claims.

“If this law goes into effect, American workers could lose their jobs and Arizona businesses could be shut down,” said ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project attorney Omar Jadwat. “The Arizona law would encourage employers to fire workers based on erroneous database discrepancies, and to avoid hiring workers who are perceived to be 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 law 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 and fails to provide any meaningful opportunity to contest the application of its penalties. 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/e-Verify 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. An official evaluation found that one in ten non-citizens who are legally authorized to work is initially categorized by Basic Pilot/e-Verify 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. Because of these and other concerns with Basic Pilot/e-Verify, Congress has repeatedly refused to make the system permanent or mandatory; instead, the program is set to expire in November 2008.

Today’s lawsuit was filed against Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, Director of the Arizona Department of Revenue Gale Garriott and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas.

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

More information on the case, Valle del Sol v. Goddard, is available online at:

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