Oklahoma Reaches Agreement Over Law Targeting Hiring of Undocumented Workers

Oklahoma officials and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have reached a settlement over state laws targeting employers who hire undocumented immigrants.

The judgment signed by U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron essentially accepts a 2010 ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that blocks enforcement of parts of the state's anti-illegal immigration law. The settlement was requested by the Chamber and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

Pruitt said the agreement puts in place what the appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court have already decided on the immigration issue, adding: "We now can shift our focus to implementing and enforcing the law."

Chamber spokesman Bobby Maldonado did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Oklahoma's immigration law was considered one of the toughest in the nation when it was adopted by the Legislature in 2007 and signed into law by then-Gov. Brad Henry.

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Among other things, it authorized the state to require use of an Internet-based system of employment authorization for public contractors. The law also sought to subject businesses that hire undocumented immigrants to financial penalties, dictated who could and couldn't be fired, and required contractors to withhold taxes for workers without proper documentation.

Wednesday's agreement authorizes the state to require use of the electronic employment verification system. But it prohibits enforcement of possible legal sanctions against employers who fire an authorized employee while retaining an undocumented worker, and the withholding of taxes for work performed by individual independent contractors.

The law was challenged in 2008 by the Chamber and other pro-business groups that argued the state was pushing immigration law enforcement onto employers. But the state said the law was needed because "illegal immigration is causing economic hardship and lawlessness in this state."

Cauthron initially blocked enforcement of much of the law, but her ruling was appealed to the 10th Circuit.

There, a divided three-judge panel decided to allow the state to require public agencies, or private businesses that do work for public institutions, to refer to an Internet-based government list of eligible workers when hiring.

But the court said the Chamber could challenge a provision in the law that bars businesses from discharging workers who are known U.S. citizens or permanent residents while retaining undocumented workers. The court also rejected Oklahoma's claim that requiring contractors to withhold taxes for undocumented workers was a tax issue and not a civil penalty.

In signing Wednesday's agreement, Cauthron noted that the nation's highest court ruled last year that a requirement in Arizona's tough anti-illegal immigration law requiring employers to use an electronic employment verification system was not pre-empted by federal law. The Arizona law was also challenged by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

This is based on a story by The Associated Press.

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