Civil Rights Coalition Challenges Arizona Employer Sanctions Law

September 4, 2007 12:00 am

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Lawsuit Alleges New State Law Will Conflict With Federal Immigration Law and the U.S. Constitution

PHOENIX – The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) joined the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arizona, the law firm of Altshuler Berzon and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) in filing a lawsuit in federal court today on behalf of Chicanos Por La Causa and Somos America challenging Arizona’s new law that threatens employers with permanent loss of business licenses based on invalid new state requirements.

The lawsuit alleges that the new law conflicts with federal immigration law and the U.S. Constitution. The “Legal Arizona Workers Act” requires that employers verify the employment eligibility of an employee through a flawed federal verification database (the Basic Pilot Program) that was intended by Congress to be voluntary and imposes sanctions beyond what the federal government allows.

“Under federal law, participation in the Basic Pilot Program is voluntary. By requiring Arizona employers to use this program, the Legal Arizona Workers Act runs afoul of the Constitution and will subject all Arizona employees regardless of legal status – Latinos in particular – to potential discrimination based on their race, ethnicity, or national origin,” said Kristina Campbell, Acting Los Angeles Regional Counsel and lead MALDEF attorney on the case.

“Arizona’s statute attempts to override national law and policy on the employment of immigrants,” said Omar Jadwat, a staff attorney at the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “If states like Arizona could pass their own immigration laws, workers and employers alike would face a patchwork of conflicting and incompatible requirements based on local politics and conditions, and it would be impossible to have a meaningful national policy.”

The state law also violates the Constitution’s 14th Amendment because it deprives workers of due process, according to the groups filing the lawsuit.

“It becomes easier and safer for Arizona business owners to discriminate against anyone they suspect of being foreign rather than risk the fines and penalties associated with a failure to comply with this law,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arizona. “That’s not the way this country works. We make laws to prohibit discrimination. We don’t create laws that require people to discriminate.”

The law requires employers to sign onto the Basic Pilot Program, recently renamed “E-Verify,” a voluntary, experimental program that has gradually expanded to cover approximately 17,000 employers nationwide.

“The Basic Pilot has been plagued with problems, including failing to identify legally authorized workers, due to its reliance on the error-ridden databases of the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security, and DHS’ lack of resources to monitor employer compliance with the rules of the program,” said Linton Joaquin, Executive Director of NILC, also representing the plaintiffs on the case. “The Arizona law requires 130,000 – 150,000 Arizona employers to join this flawed program, and this is truly a recipe for disaster and will cause grievous harm to legally authorized workers.”

In addition to Campbell, Jadwat, and Joaquin, lawyers on the case include Stephen Berzon and Jonathan Weissglass of Altshuler Berzon; Cynthia Valenzuela of MALDEF; Marielena Hincapié, Monica T. Guizar, and Karen C. Tumlin of NILC; Daniel Pochoda of the ACLU of Arizona; and Lucas Guttentag and Jennifer Chang of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

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