The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in early December on a controversial 2007 Arizona law that would revoke the business license of companies who knowingly hire undocumented workers. The legislation, known as the Legal Arizona Workers Act, is being challenged by a coalition of business groups who argued that the law intrudes on the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government over immigration. While both sides agree that the federal government, through the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), preempted states from enacting legislation that would use employer sanctions to control immigration, Arizona has argued that a parenthetical clause in IRCA allows states to act “through licensing or similar laws.”
The case, while important in its own right, also is being watched closely because it could give some indication on how willing the Justices are to allow states to pass legislation to curb undocumented immigration. In particular, it may serve as a bellwether for a Supreme Court challenge to the high-profile Arizona law passed earlier this summer requiring local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being in the country without legal status. That law — S.B. 1070 — garnered extensive, national media attention and spurred protests across the country when Governor Jan Brewer signed it into law in May. S.B. 1070 is currently moving through the courts as the Obama Administration challenges its constitutionality. It is expected to reach the Supreme Court during the 2011 or 2012 term.
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