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SCOTUS Upholds Arizona Illegal Immigration Law; No, Not That One

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on May 27, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Arizona has been a political hotbed in the illegal immigration debates. With 11 million illegal immigrants believed to be in the United States, Arizona, which shares a border with Mexico, has been Ground Zero for immigration reform. On Thursday, May 26, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the illegal immigration issue and upheld a controversial Arizona illegal immigration law.

Let's be clear for a minute here-- the law that was upheld was not SB 1070, the same law that requires the police to ask "suspected illegal immigrants" for identification. That law has had it's most controversial provisions put on hold, at the order of the 9th Circuit. The law upheld by SCOTUS is a slightly different law, albeit one that deals with the illegal immigration issue and has also been criticized by President Barack Obama.

In a 5-to-3 decision, the Court upheld an Arizona state law allowing the state to shut down businesses that hire illegal immigrants, writes Reuters. The Arizona law that was upheld essentially suspends or revokes business licenses for those businesses who are knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.

But it's not enough for an employer to plead ignorance, either. The Arizona illegal immigration law actually requires employers to use a work-authorization verification system, which searches federal records.

A 1986 federal law, the Immigration Reform and Control Act, was at issue with its express provisions overriding "any state or local law imposing civil or criminal sanctions (other than through licensing and similar laws) upon those who employ" illegal aliens, writes The New York Times.

The phrase in parentheses, namely the word "licensing" was at issue, where Arizona argued that the law allowed the state to suspend or revoke business licenses. Chief Justice John G. Roberts agreed and said that the word "licensing" should be read broadly. Justice Stephen G. Breyer and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, stating that the word "licensing" should refer to "employment-related licensing systems" and not all licenses.

Justice Elena Kagan was in absentia  and was recused from the case (no surprises there), having worked on the case in her position as U.S. Solicitor General.

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