The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday upheld (pdf.) the 2007 Legal Arizona Workers Act, a decision that deepens the debate between supporters and detractors of mandatory state and federal E-Verify programs.

According to the Arizona attorney general’s office, the Legal Arizona Workers Act prohibits businesses from knowingly or intentionally hiring an “alien who does not have the legal right or authorization under federal law to work in the United States.” The law also requires employers in Arizona to use E-Verify (a free web-based service offered by the Department of Homeland Security) to verify the employment eligibility of all new employees.

Attorney Bill Flynn, head of the Florida-based immigration practice Fowler White Boggs, tells The Florida Independent that the highlight in the ruling is its decision on “whether the states have any say in immigration law.”

Many argue immigration matters are solely a responsibility of the federal government. “The decision here is that where it is a local or state licensing situation it does not fall under preemption,” Flynn says. ”The thrust of the court opinion is that Arizona can pull your business license if  you knowingly employ unauthorized aliens.”

Flynn agrees that this decision indicates that Arizona’s law does not infringe on federal immigration oversight and that this ruling will open the way for other states to require E-Verify.

“The federal government will not enact comprehensive immigration reform. Congress is simply too politicized to do anything statesman like [that],” Flynn says. “It is not a good thing that 50 different states have slightly different laws, but if you’re sitting in the state and you want to regulate undocumented workers, the states need to step up.”

“A lot of what gets put forth is for politicians who are ambitious to say, ‘Look, I was tough on immigration,’” Flynn says. “The part that they miss is that if they get really tough then it hurts the state’s economy.”

Several studies have shown that Arizona businesses (.pdf) lost hundreds of millions of dollars due to reactions against S.B. 1070, the state’s controversial immigration-enforcement law.

Flynn says the Supreme Court decision will impact Florida, where an immigration bill almost passed this year, failing in the last few days. “I would be surprised if they didn’t pass a bill that has E-Verify in it,” he says, adding that Florida, with an estimated 800,000 undocumented people, would suffer a hugely detrimental effect on the economy if they all leave.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (aka FAIR) says it is “proud to have shaped this landmark legislation,” saying that, with this court ruling, “other states considering mandatory E-Verify laws now have a green light to proceed and can do so with the confidence that they are working within a legal framework on behalf of their citizens.”

Somos Republicans — a conservative Republican Hispanic organization — stated: “Under this ruling, the federal government, no longer, needs to create a federal E-verify mandatory programs because states have the right to pass this law if they see it fit their economic benefits or politician motivations. Thus, Congressman Lamar Smith does not have to seek to pass a mandatory federal E-verify that has been already granted to states by this Supreme Court ruling. ”

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, announced recently that he will propose a bill to mandate the use of E-Verify at the federal level.

Participants in a Tuesday conference call hosted by the National Immigration Forum said mandatory E-Verify, whether at the state or federal level, without immigration reform, would harm the U.S. economy.

The National Immigration Law Center stated:

We’re deeply disappointed that the Court has allowed this law, which has proven to have serious economic ramifications for Arizona’s workers and employers, to remain in effect. However, the ruling does not grant states the right to enforce immigration law — the issue at the heart of current legal challenges to SB 1070, Arizona’s racial profiling law. State legislators considering this decision a free pass to enact and implement legislation targeting immigrants are gravely mistaken.

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