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Human Rights Group Calls on Congress to Act Immediately

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld, by a 5-3 vote, an Arizona statute which creates state-level penalties, including the “business death penalty,” for companies which are found to have employed undocumented immigrants. The decision permits such drastic penalties that it is sure to undermine federal rules that balance anti-discrimination protections with the enforcement of immigration laws. The ruling places difficult burdens on employers, and will open the door to racial profiling.

“The Supreme Court’s decision is a problem most directly for American businesses, which face the prospect of a patchwork of state laws governing employment, despite Congress’ mandate for ‘uniform’ rules,” said Chuck Roth, director of litigation, Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). “But the effects of draconian laws like Arizona’s will certainly trickle down to individuals seeking employment, who may be subjected to racial profiling as businesses attempt to ensure that they are not subjected to catastrophic state penalties.”

NIJC filed an amicus curiae brief with the Court explaining that the Arizona statute fails to comprehend the difference between “immigration status” and “authorization to work.” Some individuals in the process of seeking lawful status, such as asylum seekers or victims of domestic violence, may qualify for work authorization. The Arizona law utterly fails to account for this. Indeed, as Justice Sotomayor pointed out in her dissent, there are 61 grounds on which an individual may be issued work authorization, many of which do not require that the individual have lawful status at the time.

“The Supreme Court ruling opens the doors to racial profiling, discrimination and injustice, and puts workers and American businesses at risk at a time when both are needed to get our country’s struggling economy back on track,” said NIJC Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy. “But Congress can fix the Court’s error. NIJC calls on Congress to enact fair and humane immigration reform and to fix the problems created by today’s decision.”

NIJC was represented at the Supreme Court by Linda Coberly of Winston & Strawn LLP, and was joined in that brief by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the American Immigration Council (AIC).


Read the Supreme Court ruling in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting

Read the amicus brief submitted on behalf of NIJC, AILA, and AIC

Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center is a Chicago-based nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. For more information visit