Constitutional Law

Feds Sue IL Over New Immigration Law

In an action that puts the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution at issue, the federal government is suing the state of Illinois over a new law that bans employer participation in a new voluntary federal program that verifies the identity of legal immigrants.

Filed in federal court in Springfield, Ill., the lawsuit contends that the Right to Privacy at Work Act signed into law last month by the Illinois governor interferes with exclusive federal authority to regulate immigration, according to the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. It was brought by the Justice Department on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security and is intended “to send a clear message to other states and cities about the way they handle immigration enforcement,” the Times writes.

The government sees the case differently: “The state of Illinois has now made it illegal to comply with federal law,” says Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in an interview with the Tribune. “That’s not acceptable as a matter of the Constitution, and it’s not acceptable as a matter of our discharging our federal obligation to enforce the immigration laws.”

However, Abby Ottenhoff, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rod Blagojevich, said the law appropriately protects employees from unfair treatment under the federal government’s flawed E-Verify program. “The Internet-based program has a less than 50 percent accuracy rate and takes 10 days to get results,” she tells the Tribune. “Lawmakers in Illinois felt that’s too long and leaves too much room for error.”

Crystal Williams of the American Immigration Lawyers Association says the U.S. is selectively pursuing the case against Illinois, in what the Tribune describes as the only such action against any state. Although other states also have passed laws concerning illegal immigrants that are “clearly violations of the supremacy clause,” federal suits have not been filed against these states, says Williams.

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