Judge Throws Out Lawsuit Challenging New Arizona Law To Stem The Hiring Of Illegal Immigrants

Saturday, December 8th 2007, 2:27 pm
By: News On 6

PHOENIX (AP) A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit seeking to block a new Arizona law that prohibits people from hiring illegal immigrants and requires businesses to verify whether applicants are eligible for employment.

The law takes effect January 1st.

In his ruling on Friday, U.S. District Judge Neil V. Wake wrote that the lawsuit was premature because there was no evidence that anybody had been harmed, and that the plaintiffs, a coalition of business and immigrant rights groups, were suing the wrong people.

The ruling said the law gives only investigatory authority to the governor and state attorney general, who were named as defendants. Wake said county prosecutors, who weren't defendants, actually have the power to enforce the law.

The plaintiffs had asked for a preliminary injunction blocking the law from taking effect.

Julie Pace, an attorney for the business groups, said her clients were meeting Saturday to determine whether to appeal the ruling or file a separate lawsuit against the county prosecutors. She said the business groups could pursue both avenues.

Alfredo Gutierrez, a spokesman for immigrant rights groups, said they plan to refile the lawsuit after January 1st, when they might be able to show damages caused by the law.

A spokesman for Governor Janet Napolitano said the governor's office had not yet read the ruling and had no immediate comment.

Napolitano signed the bill in July, saying that while immigration is a federal responsibility, Congress was apparently ``incapable of coping with the comprehensive immigration reforms our country needs.''

The law is intended to curb Arizona's role as the busiest illegal gateway into the country. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that illegal immigrants account for one in 10 workers in the Arizona economy.

Under the law, any business that is found to have knowingly hired an illegal worker is subject to sanctions ranging from probation to a 10-day suspension of its business licenses. A second violation would bring permanent revocation of the license.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit had argued the law was an unconstitutional attempt by the state to regulate immigration, which is the responsibility of the federal government. The judge's ruling did not address that argument.

``He didn't uphold the law,'' Pace said. ``He didn't decide if it was constitutional. We can have that argument another day.''

Attorneys for the state say the groups weren't reading the law correctly and that it does not conflict with federal law.