U.S. News

Appeals court upholds Arizona immigration law

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday upheld an Arizona law that targets employers who hire illegal immigrants by revoking their licenses to do business in the state.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals noted that the 2007 law, which has not been enforced, arose from “rising frustration with the United States Congress’s failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform.”

Some 12 million illegal immigrants are believed to live in the United States; many work with false papers and the issue of what to do with them has become a political hot potato.

It was not immediately clear whether Arizona would now begin enforcing the law or if its opponents would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The American Civil Liberties Union, a plaintiff in the suit, said the court expressly left open the possibility of further challenges if and when it was enforced.

Arizona attorney general Terry Goddard welcomed the ruling, and said his office would “continue to defend the statute should there be an appeal to the highest court.”

Arizona passed the employer sanctions law after a federal immigration overhaul died in the U.S. Congress in June 2007.

Immigration, business and civil rights groups challenged the law, saying it was preempted by federal rules governing immigration.

The groups also contended the law, called the Legal Arizona Workers Act, violates employers’ due process rights by denying them the chance to challenge allegations that their workers are illegal before their licenses are revoked.

But the appeals court ruled that federal law does not preempt the Act or its requirement that employers to use an electronic verification system to check the work-authorization status of employees through federal records.

The court also ruled that the law “can and should be reasonably interpreted to allow employers, before any license can be adversely affected, to present evidence to rebut the presumption that an employee is unauthorized.”

Although the court upheld the law “in all respects”, it noted that its opinion did not bar later challenges once it is enforced.

Reporting by Gina Keating; Editing by Tim Gaynor and Alan Elsner