Can states pass measures penalizing businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants, or does this infringe on federal immigration powers?
A coalition of 13 states has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold an 2007 Arizona law, which allows business licenses to be revoked or suspended when employers are found to have knowingly hired illegal immigrants. Similar laws are in place in several states.
Businesses and civil rights groups have challenged the Arizona law by contending it infringes on federal immigration powers — an argument rejected by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in September 2008.
The Supreme Court is to hear arguments next month.
A coalition led by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster released court documents Thursday arguing that states have long had the authority to license and regulate businesses. The states contend Congress specifically exempted state licensing laws in a 1986 federal law that prevents states from imposing civil or criminal penalties on businesses for illegal hirings.
"Those state laws complement, rather than replace, federal enforcement" of immigration laws, Koster wrote in the document filed Oct. 28 with the Supreme Court. "Indeed, absent this complementary approach between federal and state law, a significant deterrent to employing 'unauthorized aliens' would be missing."
Other states joining Missouri's argument are Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia. The states are not parties to the lawsuit, but rather filed their legal brief as a suggestion to the court.
The Associated Press contributed to the report.