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Arizona v. United States    
  State statute criminalizing unauthorized aliens who work
is preempted (5-3) 

Decided June 25, 2012 
[Full text of opinion

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The United States sued the State of Arizona to enjoin enforcement of a state statute that (among other things) makes it a crime "for a person who is unlawfully present in the United States and who is an unauthorized alien to knowingly apply for work, solicit work in a public place or perform work as an employee or independent contractor in this state." The trial court enjoined enforcement of the statute pending final decision on its constitutionality; the 9th Circuit affirmed. 

The US Supreme Court affirmed (5-3) that this portion of the Arizona statute is preempted by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). 

Federal law makes it illegal for employers to knowingly hire, recruit, refer, or continue to employ unauthorized workers; it also requires every employer to verify the employment authorization status of prospective employees. This comprehensive framework does not impose federal criminal sanctions on the employee side (i.e., penalties on aliens who seek or engage in unauthorized work). The Court said, "Congress made a deliberate choice not to impose criminal penalties on aliens who seek, or engage in, unauthorized employment." "The correct instruction to draw from the text, structure, and history of IRCA is that Congress decided it would be inappropriate to impose criminal penalties on aliens who seek or engage in unauthorized employment. It follows that a state law to the contrary is an obstacle to the regulatory system Congress chose." 

Case below: United State v. State of Arizona, 641 F.3d 339 (9th Cir 04/11/2011) 
Official docket sheet 
Certiorari granted: December 12, 2011. Justice Kagan is recused. 
Oral argument:  Wednesday, April 25, 2012. 

Questions presented in petition for certiorari:   

Arizona enacted the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (S.B. 1070) to address the illegal immigration crisis in the State. The four provisions of S.B. 1070 enjoined by the courts below authorize and direct state law-enforcement officers to cooperate and communicate with federal officials regarding the enforcement of federal immigration law and impose penalties under state law for non-compliance with federal immigration requirements. 

The question presented is whether the federal immigration laws preclude Arizona's efforts at cooperative law enforcement and impliedly preempt these four provisions of S.B. 1070 on their face.   

Text of Arizona statute which criminalizes work: 

S.B. 1070 Section 5(C) provides that it “is unlawful for a person who is unlawfully present in the United States and who is an unauthorized alien to knowingly apply for work, solicit work in a public place or perform work as an employee or independent contractor in this state.” Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-2928(C) (2010). Violation of this provision is a class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a six month maximum term of imprisonment. Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 13-2928(F), 13-707(A)(1) (2010). 

Briefs on the merits: 

Certiorari Documents: 

Counsel:

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