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Arizona immigration law challenged

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KAI RYSSDAL: The immigration debate in Arizona’s one of the most contentious in the country, in part because it has some of the most severe restrictions on illegal aliens. At the beginning of the year, a new and controversial law went into effect. It obliges businesses to verify the immigration status of new hires, or face heavy sanctions up to and including the loss of their business licenses. The law’s stuck in court, and late yesterday the US Chamber of Commerce filed a brief asking judges to overturn it.

From the Americas Desk at WLRN, Marketplace’s Dan Grech reports.

DAN GRECH: The Arizona law requires businesses to use a federal database called eVerify to establish a worker is legal, but eVerify is an optional pilot program. Attorney Robin Conrad, with the US Chamber of Commerce, says making the system mandatory is unconstitutional.

ROBIN CONRAD: Some states are frustrated, but the fact of the matter is that they don’t have the authority to do what they’re doing.

Conrad says states can’t be allowed to continue writing immigration law.

CONRAD: It’s creating a piecemeal approach to this issue, a national patchwork, which is quite onerous for companies, particularly those that operate in a multi-state environment.

It’s also taking a toll on small businesses. Bret Wingert runs two tea houses in Phoenix. Four recent hires went through eVerify smoothly, but one woman was a “no match.”

BRET WINGERT: She kind of freaked out a little bit. Meanwhile, all these clocks start running and there’s all these processes you have to do as an employer, so if I had to go through this process of non-match a lot, I would probably just quit hiring people and do the work myself.

Economists in Arizona say the law is prompting workers to leave and slowing growth in the state. Julie Pace is one of the attorneys challenging the law.

JULIE PACE: Our neighboring states are very happy right now. I know California is cheering us on, and Nevada, because it’s helping them grow.

So far, the lower courts have ruled in favor of Arizona. A decision from the Court of Appeals is expected in the fall.

I’m Dan Grech for Marketplace.

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