Late last week, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Arizona law that (1) can put employers out of business for hiring unauthorized workers and (2) mandates the use of E-Verify. The Basics In Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. Whiting, the Court ruled 5-3 that federal law does not preempt the Legal Arizona Workers Act because it is primarily a licensing statute. The law empowers the state to suspend or revoke the business license of employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. "Congress expressly preserved the ability of the states to impose their own sanctions through licensing," Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the Court's decision. The Court also found that the state's mandated use of the E-Verify electronic employment verification system did not conflict with any aspect of federal law. The Reactions Several rather disparate groups banded together to oppose the law, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, civil-rights organizations and even the White House – to no avail. The Chamber warned that the Court's decision will open the door for other states to enact similarly stringent laws. "The growing patchwork of state and local immigration laws is a serious obstacle to doing business across state lines," said Robin Conrad, a lawyer representing the Chamber. The Chamber is calling for Congress to ban state immigration laws as part of a broader overhaul of federal immigration law. Reality Check At this point, the law appears to be more bark than bite. Since its controversial passage in 2007, only three businesses have faced charges under the law. While raids have led to the arrest of hundreds of workers, the government is finding to difficult to meet the "knowingly" test under the law. The Bottom Line No matter what state you operate in, now is not the time to violate immigration laws. Governments at all levels are devoting unprecedented resources to seeking out potential violators. Carefully and completely fill out all I-9s and always always always follow the law.
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