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SAN FRANCISCO - In oral arguments today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is hearing the first appellate argument in the country to address the constitutionality of a state anti-immigrant law that seeks to impose state regulation of immigrant employment. A coalition of civil rights groups is urging the court to overturn the so-called Legal Arizona Workers Act because it improperly interferes with federal law and violates due process.
The coalition includes 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).
In separate lawsuits that have been consolidated with the civil rights coalition's challenge on appeal, several business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have also challenged the state law. Friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the plaintiffs in both lawsuits were filed on behalf of numerous additional business and civil rights 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.
"Immigration regulation is a federal responsibility. States and cities cannot substitute their frustrations or biases for federal law. Arizona's approach invites chaos and confusion and is causing discrimination against U.S. citizens, Latinos and legal workers," said Omar Jadwat, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "It is astonishing that the state has passed law to raise barriers to lawful work and permanently shut down functioning businesses at a time when the economy is already in precarious condition."
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 creates a slew of state procedures and penalties applicable to businesses accused of hiring unauthorized workers and will permanently shut down any business that is twice found in violation of the state law.
MALDEF staff attorney Kristina Campbell said, "Employers will simply avoid hiring people they think are immigrants rather than run the risk of losing their business licenses. 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."
The civil rights coalition brought the lawsuit on behalf of Valle del Sol, Inc., Chicanos por la Causa, Inc. and Somos America, three Arizona-based non-profit organizations. The coalition's lawsuit asserts that the Arizona statute violates the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of due process. A Phoenix federal court issued a decision in February that allowed the employer sanctions law, which went into effect January 1, to be enforced beginning March 1.
"This law has already had serious social, economic and legal costs but does nothing to solve perceived immigration problems," said Linton Joaquin, Executive Director of NILC. "It's time we recognize that immigrants contribute greatly to this country's economy and culture, and pass just and humane immigration reform."
The challenge to the Arizona law is the first of a number of legal challenges against recent local and state anti-immigrant laws and ordinances to be argued in a federal appeals court. Other pending legal challenges include a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and other organizations against a Hazleton, Pennsylvania local anti-immigrant ordinance. A federal court in Pennsylvania struck down the Hazleton ordinance that sought to punish landlords and employers for doing business with undocumented immigrants. That case is currently on appeal before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
Jonathan Weissglass of Altshuler Berzon LLP is arguing the consolidated cases, collectively referred to as <i>Arizona Contractors Association, Et Al v. Criss Candelaria, Et Al</i>.
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs Valle del Sol, Chicanos por la Causa and Somos America include Jadwat, Lucas Guttentag and Jennifer C. Chang of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project; Daniel Pochoda of the ACLU of Arizona; 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: www.aclu.org/immigrants/discrim/27848res20070105.html