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Groups hopeful about appeal of employer sanctions

Groups trying to overturn an Arizona law that prohibits employers from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants are encouraged that the U.S. Supreme Court has expressed an interest in their appeal.

The court normally agrees to take on only a small number of appeals, and it hasn’t yet decided whether it will hear the business and civil rights groups’ appeal of the law. But the justices on Nov. 2 asked the U.S. solicitor general – the lawyer who argues the Obama administration’s cases before the court – to submit a brief in the case.

Julie Pace, a lawyer representing the business groups, said the court’s request probably improves her clients’ chances of getting heard by the nation’s top court. “That usually means that they realized that this decision impacts the federal government and they want it to express its views,” Pace said.

The state’s employer sanctions law, passed in 2007 to help reduce the economic incentive for immigrants to sneak into the country, has been upheld by a federal district court and a federal appellate court. Employer sanctions laws from Oklahoma and Hazleton, Pa., are awaiting rulings by federal appellate courts.

Under the Arizona law, businesses found to have knowingly hired illegal immigrants can have their business licenses suspended or revoked. The law, which doesn’t carry criminal penalties, also requires employers to verify the work eligibility of new workers through a federal database.

Although authorities have examined dozens of cases, no businesses have faced civil actions for illegal hirings in the 22 months that the law has been in effect. One difficulty cited in bringing cases against employers is prosecutors’ lack of civil subpoena power to make suspected violators hand over records and give testimony.

The law has prompted or contributed to an unknown number of illegal immigrants’ leaving Arizona for their home countries or other states.

The business and civil rights groups argued the law is an unconstitutional attempt by the state to regulate immigration and that cracking down on such hirings is the sole responsibility of the federal government.

Supporters of the law argued state punishments were needed because the federal government hasn’t adequately enforced a federal law that already prohibits employers from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.

Arizona Solicitor General Mary O’Grady, who is defending the law on behalf of the state, declined through a spokeswoman to comment Nov. 3.

O’Grady argued in court papers that the Supreme Court shouldn’t hear the appeal because the lower courts decided the case correctly and that there aren’t differing opinions from lower circuit appellate courts on the subject for the high court to resolve.

“This court’s ordinary practice in such a situation is to wait and see whether a circuit conflict arises. Nothing the (U.S.) solicitor general might say about this case can change that,” O’Grady wrote.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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