PHOENIX (AP)—A federal judge on Thursday upheld an Arizona law that prohibits businesses from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and yanks the business licenses of those that do.
U.S. District Judge Neil Wake dismissed a lawsuit filed by business groups that argued that federal immigration law severely restricts Arizona’s ability to punish people who knowingly employ illegal immigrants.
The law won approval last year from the Republican-majority Legislature and Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano amid frustration over what they said were inadequate federal efforts to confront illegal immigration. Many cities across the country have passed similar measures, though some have been rejected in court.
Business groups including the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry argue the Arizona law unconstitutionally infringes on federal immigration powers. Wake, however, concluded that there is no conflict with federal immigration law, which he said specifically lets states regulate business licensing.
The business groups challenging the law said they will appeal Wake’s ruling to the San Franscisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Wake’s ruling did not settle whether the law applies to all workers, or only those hired after it took effect in January. The judge noted that the law’s reach has been debated, with lawmakers disagreeing on what was intended, and said that issue would have to be settled in a future case.
Businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants could face a business license suspension lasting up to 10 days under the new law. Second-time violators would have their business licenses permanently revoked. The law also requires businesses to use an otherwise voluntary federal database to verify the employment eligibility of new workers.
The law is intended to weaken the economic incentive for immigrants to sneak across the border and lessen Arizona’s role as the busiest illegal gateway into the country. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that illegal immigrants account for one in 10 workers in the Arizona economy.