By a 5-3 vote, the Supreme Court upheld an Arizona law that imposes sanctions against businesses that hire illegal immigrants. The court also upheld the state’s law requiring all employers to utilize E-Verify, a federal electronic employment eligibility verification system that had been voluntary nationwide. Leaders of agricultural groups, including United Fresh Senior Vice President of Public Policy Robert Guenther, were quick to respond to the ruling, saying that any standards should be implemented at the federal level.
“Produce industry employers are steadfastly committed to ensuring all employees are properly documented and legally eligible to work,” said Guenther. “Providing Americans with access to an abundant supply of nutritious fruits and vegetables requires that producers have access to a legal workforce. United Fresh and the produce industry support the adoption of a consistent federal labor eligibility standard, including a workable guest worker program, to meet these critical labor needs. As lawmakers consider action in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, we call on Congress to work with us to support the men and women of the produce industry and the millions of American jobs that are essential to the produce food chain, and take the necessary steps to ensure a viable labor supply of agriculture workers.”
The California Grape & Tree Fruit League noted that in the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that Congress had “preserved the ability of the states to impose their own sanctions,” adding that “Arizona’s procedures simply implement the sanctions that Congress expressly allowed Arizona to pursue through licensing laws.” Furthermore, Roberts added the Arizona law, “relies solely on the federal government’s own determination of who is an unauthorized alien, and it requires Arizona employers to use the federal government’s own system for checking employee status.”
Roberts was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. Justice Elena Kagan did not participate in the case because of her previous job as solicitor general in the Obama administration, which had opposed the law.
Arizona passed the Legal Arizona Workers Act in 2007, which allowed Arizona to suspend the licenses of businesses that “intentionally or knowingly” violate work-eligibility verification requirements. Under the Arizona law, companies would be required to use the federal E-Verify database to check the documentation of current and prospective employees. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit against Arizona, arguing federal law prohibits Arizona and other states from making E-Verify use mandatory.
The likely impact of the Court’s decision is that additional states may move to copy Arizona’s law and look to implement E-Verify on their own. In addition, League President Barry Bedwell said he expects that there will be renewed enthusiasm in the nation’s capitol to pass a mandatory E-verify law. The League, along with the Agricultural Coalition for Immigration Reform (ACIR) and the National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE), will continue to work to see that needed immigration reform is accomplished prior to mandatory E-Verify.
As news of the ruling spread through the state, many merchants and business leaders expressed resignation, the Arizona Republic reported. Several business groups, in responding to the ruling, argued that the employer-sanctions legal battle underscores the need for comprehensive federal immigration reform. “We were disappointed, and we still believe that the right place to handle issues related to immigration is on the federal level,” Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told the newspaper. The chamber was a plaintiff in the case. “If there is a silver lining, it is that this will increase the pressure on the Congress and the administration to do something meaningful in this area,” he added, citing increasing border security and creating “workable” temporary-visa programs for immigrant laborers of all skill levels.
Gov. Jan Brewer and others who back tougher immigration laws voiced optimism that the ruling bodes well for Senate Bill 1070, which made it a state crime to be in the country illegally. Passed in 2010, the state’s controversial immigration law started a media firestorm, and it is also making its way to the Supreme Court. “While SB 1070 and the Legal Arizona Workers Act are obviously different laws,” the governor said in a statement, “I am hopeful and optimistic that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Arizona’s future appeal of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision against SB 1070 and apply the same general principle of federalism by rejecting claims of federal pre-emption.”