Supreme Court urged to toss Ariz. immigration law

WASHINGTON – The nation’s unions have joined the Obama administration in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to toss out Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB1070.

In “friend of the court” briefs filed with the justices before the April 25 oral argument on Arizona’s statute, the AFL-CIO, in one brief, and the Change To Win unions, in the other, both say the law intrudes on a federal area of law, immigration.

Not only that, but the CTW unions point out that Arizona directly contradicts the 1986 federal immigration law’s “fine balance of sanctions” – aimed at employers who hire undocumented workers – by Arizona’s outright ban on employment of undocumented workers. SB1070 even bans the workers from seeking jobs, CTW says.

The case is important because SB1070, signed by GOP Gov. Jan Brewer after passage by the overwhelmingly Republican legislature, is aimed not just at undocumented workers; unions and their allies declare it discriminates against Hispanics, because it orders police to stop anyone they suspect of being undocumented and demand immediate proof of legal residence. In practical terms, that’s anyone who “looks different.” Lack of proof leads to arrest, detention, and deportation.

Other states, at the urging of the same right-wing-Big Business group that is trying to destroy unions nationwide, have also passed Arizona-like laws, with even more draconian ones in Alabama and Georgia. The Obama administration is challenging those laws in federal courts, too.

Organizations and think tanks often submit “friend of the court” briefs in major Supreme Court cases. The justices occasionally cite arguments from them.

Arizona’s law has many anti-immigrant provisions, but the unions concentrated on its anti-worker slams.

“Arizona’s attempt to deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens by imposing sanctions that Congress expressly rejected in exercising its authority to set the immigration policy of the U.S. is preempted,” the Change To Win brief says.

“As this court recognized, where a comprehensive federal scheme intentionally leaves a portion of the regulated field without controls, then the pre-emptive inference can be drawn not from federal inaction alone, but from inaction joined with action. Otherwise each of the 50 states could set separate work-related criminal provisions.

“Arizona has not only imposed sanctions Congress explicitly rejected, it has chosen extraordinarily severe sanctions that are more harsh than even those that Congress imposed on employers” under the 1986 federal immigration law, CTW said.

“Where the federal government has carefully calibrated the level of sanctions and struck a delicate balance of statutory objectives, Arizona may not undermine it.”

The AFL-CIO called the state anti-immigrant laws unwise and unjust, as well as saying the federal immigration law pre-empts – overrides – state action. It admitted, however, that the federal immigration system is broken.

The fed has been campaigning for years for a compromise immigration law to bring all 11 million undocumented workers under U.S. labor law protections, while setting them on a long, slow, but legal, path to a form of permanent residence here.

Without such protection, the fed says, not only are the undocumented workers greatly exploited with no way to fight back, but vicious employers use the threat of importing undocumented workers to force concessions from citizen workers and unions.

“The AFL-CIO believes the current federal immigration system is broken. However, the recent efforts by several states to address the deficiencies in the federal system on a patchwork basis” – it singled out Alabama and Georgia along with Arizona – “are not only unwise as a matter of immigration policy, they are also largely preempted by federal immigration law under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

“Authority to regulate immigration is an exclusively federal power,” the AFL-CIO declares. “This federal power, implemented by the Immigration and Nationality Act, includes the power to comprehensively regulate the employment of aliens in order to deter aliens from entering the United States unlawfully in search of employment and to deter lawfully admitted aliens from violating the terms of their admission by engaging in unauthorized employment.”

The anti-worker section of Arizona’s law “is preempted because, by criminalizing any alien who is unlawfully present in the U.S. and who engages in unauthorized employment, it seeks to deter the unlawful entry into and presence of aliens in Arizona, rather than to regulate employment relationships within the state.

“In fact, SB1070 says nothing at all about employment relationships as such. Instead, the law uses unauthorized employment as a vehicle for levying a state criminal penalty on aliens for their unlawful presence in the U.S. By enforcing a one-size-fits-all state criminal penalty for violations of federal immigration law, SB1070 interferes with the United States’ ability to tailor its enforcement efforts in a manner calibrated to further overall goals of federal immigration policy.”

Photo: A rally and march in Salem, Ore., May 29, protest’s Arizona’s SB 1070. (AP/Kobbi R. Blair/ Statesman Journal)


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.