APRIL 15, 2009
An Oregon judge has struck down a county law penalizing employers that hire illegal immigrants, ruling that the measure is not legal because local lawmakers don’t have the authority to enforce it.
The measure was overwhelmingly approved by voters in Columbia County, northwest of Portland, last November and approved by the Columbia County Board of Commissioners in December. It calls for investigations into businesses that knowingly hire undocumented workers and mandates punishments, including hefty fines and license revocation.
The law also calls on county officials to report suspected illegal workers to federal immigration authorities and requires all county contractors to use a federal database (E-Verify) to check the employment eligibility of all its workers. An official database of violations is also to be maintained in the county.
All of it is illegal and unenforceable, according to a Columbia County judge named Ted Grove. He ruled this week that suspending business licenses and building permits of companies that hire undocumented workers requires actions that are beyond the statutory authority of the county commissioners. The judge said he recognized the serious issue the initiative was seeking to address, but pointed out that existing federal preemption and statutory provisions could not be ignored.
Essentially, the judge reiterated in his ruling the argument presented by the liberal civil rights group that challenged the law; that it exceeds the county’s legislative power because it violates federal and state law as well as the U.S. Constitution.
A similar argument was unsuccessfully used to challenge a landmark Arizona law that Columbia County used to craft its measure. That statewide initiative severely punishes businesses caught hiring illegal aliens. Last year a federal judge in Phoenix rejected a legal challenge claiming that Arizona’s law unconstitutionally infringes on federal powers, ruling that federal law specifically lets states regulate business and that federal statutes don’t preempt states from suspending or revoking the licenses of firms that break the law.
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