Business leaders who filed a lawsuit over Arizona’s new employer-sanctions law have found a powerful new ally.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce joined the businesses’ legal challenge against the law designed to punish employers who hire illegal immigrants.
Robin Conrad, vice president of the National Chamber Litigation Center, an arm of the national group, said the organization wants to make it clear that immigration issues, including the hiring of undocumented workers, is strictly a federal issue.
But Conrad acknowledged her group also hopes to quash the Arizona law before it is set to take effect in January — and before other states and communities enact similar laws.
“We really need to sort of step up and send a message to states and localities that their efforts, despite their frustrations, are preempted by federal law,” she said.
Phoenix attorney David Selden, who crafted the original lawsuit, said federal law allows states to suspend or revoke business licenses of firms that knowingly employ people who are not legally entitled to work in the U.S. But he said that can happen only after a company is found guilty in federal court of violating a federal law. He said state courts are powerless to decide whether someone is an undocumented worker.
Gov. Janet Napolitano said she believes the law will survive a court challenge.
Napolitano pointed out a recent ruling by a federal judge in Pennsylvania who struck down a Hazleton city ordinance allowing local officials to suspend or revoke the business license of companies that knowingly hire undocumented workers.
That language is very similar to the provisions of House Bill 2779, which Napolitano approved earlier this year.
It allows a court to suspend any state license of a firm found guilty of knowingly hiring undocumented workers. A second offense puts the company out of business.
The judge in the Pennsylvania case said the Hazleton ordinance is an unconstitutional incursion by local government into an area solely the purview of the federal government.
“I think that’s a debatable point,” Napolitano said.