Washington – The U.S. Supreme Court upheld on Thursday a controversial Arizona state law that sanctions businesses that hire undocumented immigrants.
By a 5-3 vote, the justices rejected the arguments of companies, civil organizations and even the Obama administration and reopened the door to the implementation of the law, which entered into force in 2008 but had been suspended pending the court ruling.
The decision is the first one by the court regarding the package of measures against undocumented migrants pushed through in Arizona and one that, according to some analysts, could be a harbinger of the high court's ruling on the most controversial of those laws, SB 1070, which seeks to criminalize the undocumented.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced two weeks ago that she will take her arguments to the high court for implementing SB 1070 in its entirety and without any of the restrictions imposed by a federal district court in Phoenix.
It is widely expected that the Supreme Court will ultimately address the constitutionality of SB 1070, which demands that state and local law enforcement officers verify the immigration status of anyone they suspect is an undocumented immigrant.
The ruling issued Thursday, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, said Arizona's law sanctioning employers does not violate federal immigration laws, contrary to claims by plaintiffs and the Justice Department.
The law authorizes Arizona district attorneys to take to court businessmen who knowingly hire undocumented workers.
Firms that violate the law run the risk of losing their operating licenses and even being shut down.
The Arizona legislation "falls well within the confines of the authority Congress chose to leave to the states," Roberts said in an opinion supported by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.
In their dissent, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer warned that the measure could lead to "illegal discrimination" against U.S. citizens and legal residents who seem to be foreigners.
The ninth justice, Elena Kagan, recused herself because she was involved in the case during her tenure as President Barack Obama's solicitor general.
The lead plaintiff in the suit, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, expressed disappointment with the ruling.
"The decision makes it all the more urgent for Congress to bring much-needed clarity to immigration law through legislative reform, including preemption of employment-related state immigration laws," said Robin Conrad, executive vice president of the National Chamber Litigation Center.
Arizona activists expressed their disappointment with the high court's ruling.
"This law has been a nightmare for many people, among them legal residents and citizens of this country, who have mistakenly been denied the right to work," Lydia Guzman, a representative for the Respect/Respeto organization in Arizona, told Efe.
In her opinion, the Supreme Court's ruling "will open" the door to more discrimination in the process of hiring employees.
Seven other states - Colorado, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia - have approved employer sanction laws similar to Arizona's.