Amid the ongoing national debate about immigration reform, states and municipalities throughout the U.S. have passed their own laws aimed at combating illegal immigration and punishing businesses that benefit from it. When these bills and ordinances began making headlines in 2006, most immigration attorneys suspected they would not survive a pre-emption challenge. Regulating the flow of people across national borders has always been the province of the federal government.
Following that logic, the first of these statutes to be challenged in federal court--Hazleton, Pa.'s Illegal Immigration Relief Act--was summarily struck from the books in July 2007. But the Federal District Court in Arizona dealt businesses a surprise in February when it upheld the Legal Arizona Workers Act, a statute similar to Hazleton's, which imposes tough sanctions on employers who hire illegal workers.
Employers have a serious quarrel with that reading of the statute. "In a broad context, the Hazleton and Arizona laws are trying to accomplish the same thing in the same manner," says Elena Park, a member of Cozen O'Connor who represented the parties who successfully challenged the Hazleton ordinance. "The laws punish employers and add burdens not contemplated by federal law."
The plaintiffs now will take that argument to the 9th Circuit. But the 9th Circuit rebuffed their initial request Feb. 28, denying an emergency injunction to stay enforcement of the law pending the appeal. So Arizona officials began enforcing the law on March 1.