The Supreme Court on Wednesday stepped into the fierce national debate over illegal immigration, considering an Arizona law that allows the state to shut down businesses that hire undocumented workers.
The nation’s highest court debated where to draw the line on the powers of the states and of the federal government in enforcing immigration laws, an issue it last addressed in a major ruling in 1976.

Attorney Carter Phillips, representing business and civil rights groups that challenged the law, and Obama administration lawyer Neal Katyal argued the three-year-old Arizona law should be struck down for infringing on federal immigration powers.

Arizona Solicitor General Mary O’Grady defended the law as part of the state’s traditional police powers to regulate employer conduct. A comprehensive 1986 federal immigration law made an exception for licensing laws like the Arizona statute, she said.

The law is different from the strict Arizona immigration law adopted earlier this year and criticized by President Barack Obama that requires the police to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.

That law did not come up during the Supreme Court arguments and it was unclear if the court’s eventual ruling would affect the new law. A federal judge has put that law’s most controversial provisions on hold and the matter is now pending before a U.S. appeals court.

The law before the high court suspends or revokes licenses to do business in Arizona to penalize employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. It requires employers to use an electronic verification system to check the work-authorization status of employees through federal records.

Source: James Vicini for Reuters.

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