STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
An Arizona immigration law faces a challenge before the Supreme Court today. It's not the famous law - the one that's attracted much debate this year, the law that is directed at illegal immigrants. Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments on a case testing a 2007 Arizona law that imposes harsh penalties on businesses that hire illegal immigrants. Many other states now have similar laws. Here's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.
NINA TOTENBERG: Today lawyer Carter Phillips, representing the chamber, will tell the Supreme Court that state improperly detached the term license from its usual meaning and transformed it into the primary immigration enforcement mechanism for employers in Arizona.
CARTER PHILLIPS: Having an entire shadow set of proceedings, created at the state level one, means that you have a whole different enforcement mechanism in place; and two, you're subject to significantly greater sanctions. And indeed, in Arizona, the death penalty for businesses, which is the loss or forfeiture of their license to do business.
TOTENBERG: It cannot be, Phillips argues, that Congress imposes a $500 fine for hiring a single illegal worker. But in Arizona...
PHILLIPS: You can get kicked out of being able to do business and therefore deprived of literally millions of dollars under those circumstances.
TOTENBERG: Arizona Solicitor General Mary O'Grady acknowledges that the state's law may be severe.
MARY O: But that's the nature of a licensing sanction. Typically it is a serious sanction.
TOTENBERG: A Department of Homeland Security study a year ago found that foreign born legal residents and naturalized citizens were 20 times more likely to be erroneously rejected by the system than native born U.S. citizens. But Arizona maintains the system is there to be used. As Mary O'Grady puts it...
GRADY: Just because congress has not mandated this program nationally doesn't mean that a state can't decide that they want to use it within their jurisdiction. This is a program that the federal government developed. They want it to be used. They're encouraging its use.
TOTENBERG: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
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