Federal Court Says Local Governments Can Penalize Those Hiring Illegal Immigrants

Federal Court Says Local Governments Can Penalize Those Hiring Illegal Immigrants

The Nebraska State Paper (Lincoln), June 15, 2009

The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that local governments can suspend the business permits of companies that hire illegal immigrants.

The appeals court panel ruled in a case involving Valley Park, Missouri.

Nebraska is within the 8th Circuit, so the ruling by the three-judge panel applies in the state. The Legislature enacted a statute this year which requires state and local governments, and employers who have contracts with state or local governments, to use the Internet-based federal E-verify system. It provides penalties for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.

Although the federal court said local governments could suspend business permits, Nebraskas state law was seen as superseding local ordinances, such as a controversial measure previously adopted by the Fremont City Council.

The fight over a Valley Park ordinance began in 2006. The city had also barred landlords from renting to illegal immigrants, but that provision was repealed in 2007.

A federal judge ruled in 2008 that the city could suspend the licenses of businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants; it was that decision which the three-judge panel affirmed earlier this month. The local ordinance also required businesses to use the E-verify system.

To access the decision by the three-judge federal panel, click here.

The ACLU, which challenged the ordinance, can seek a review by the full appeals court panel, or it can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

The Missouri Legislature passed a law in 2008 which made the Valley Park ordinance redundant. The Valley Park city attorney said earlier this month that the community might never need to enforce its own ordinance.

The legal battle began when a county judge first declared the ordinance unconstitutional.

Because federal courts in different parts of the country have issued a variety of rulings on such issues and ordinances, some legal experts believe a comprehensive case will eventually find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Opponents of illegal immigration have argued that state laws should provide penalties for any business that hires illegal immigrants, not just to those who have government contracts.