Construction industry sources say the latest legal skirmish over Arizona’s controversial immigration law underscores the need for comprehensive immigration reform at the national level. The law, signed April 23, allows police to detain an individual under “reasonable suspicion” of being an illegal alien. The case could ultimately go to the U.S. Supreme Court, say political observers.

Photo courtesy of the office of Jan Brewer
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has suggested bringing in the state legislature for a special session to modify its controversial immigration law.

“This is a federal issue and it needs to be addressed,” says Kelly Knott, director of congressional relations/human resources and labor for the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), Washington, D.C. Until comprehensive reform is adopted in Congress, “more and more states will try to take up their own immigration laws while things remain stalled at the national level,” she says.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton put a temporary hold on portions of the law on July 28, one day before it was to go into effect. The temporary injunction hands the federal government a victory in its bid to overturn the law, which it says is unconstitutional. The Dept. of Justice’s principal argument is that the power to regulate immigration is the responsibility of the federal government, and that Arizona’s law is therefore preempted by federal law.

On July 29, Arizona asked a federal appeals court to overturn the injunction, which prevents portions of the state’s immigration law from going into effect. On July 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected Arizona’s request for an expedited appeal, and set a date in November to hear the case.

The temporary injunction delays implementation of several controversial provisions of the law, including a measure banning illegal immigrants from seeking employment in public places (day labor spots) and a provision permitting warrantless arrests of suspected illegal aliens.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has suggested bringing the state legislature in for a special session to modify the law so that it would be upheld by the court system. “We need to explore any and all options, including the possibility of tweaks to [the law], to get the legislation implemented as soon as possible,” says Brewer.

Construction groups such as AGC and the American Subcontractors Association of Arizona say they prefer a comprehensive approach to immigration reform, rather than a patchwork of state laws.

Mark Minter, executive director of the Arizona Builders Alliance, says the law—if ultimately upheld in its entirety—should not have a major impact on employers. Federal law already requires employers to refrain from hiring illegal immigrants, he says.

Doug Pruitt, chairman and CEO of Phoenix-based constructor Sundt, says the court system will decide what happens with the law, which he opposes because it does not address “some of the key problems we have in Arizona relative to illegal immigration.” But ultimately, the raging debate in the state may have done some good, he says. If nothing else, it has focused the rest of the nation on the need to “do something to deal with illegal immigration in some form,” he adds.

Efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration bill stalled in the U.S. Congress in 2007. President Barack Obama (D) this summer called on federal lawmakers to revisit the issue.

AGC’s Knott says she doubts Congress will have time to address the issue this year, “but I remain hopeful that perhaps something will happen in 2011.”