While Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, Senate Bill 1070, continues to garner national attention in the months leading up to its July 29 effective date, employers in Arizona must not forget their obligations under the already effective Legal Arizona Workers Act (“LAWA”). LAWA imposes severe penalties on employers who either “knowingly” or “intentionally” hire unauthorized workers.

On May 6, 2010, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio raided a Phoenix business, arresting 24 employees suspected of being illegal aliens. Sheriff Arpaio conducted the raid after receiving a tip through his immigration hotline that employees at the business were engaging in identity theft. The recent raid was Sheriff Arpaio’s 32nd workplace raid in the period since LAWA took effect in January 2008.

Until recently, the Sheriff’s raids have focused primarily on the arrests of unauthorized workers and have not resulted in the prosecution of the businesses that employed them. However, that appears to be changing. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has initiated at least two cases against employers under LAWA. There are also indications that Arizona’s County Attorneys are gearing up for increased enforcement of LAWA. Senate Bill 1070 adds an “entrapment” defense to LAWA, which suggests that law enforcement will be engaging in more creative investigation techniques in the future. Moreover, the Maricopa County Attorney sought increased subpoena power under LAWA, but this initiative was successfully opposed by business groups and did not make it into the final version of Senate Bill 1070.

Finally, the lawsuit filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups challenging LAWA has made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court has invited the Solicitor General to file a brief on behalf of the U.S. government. With the recent nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, it is not clear when the case will move forward.

Jackson Lewis will continue to follow developments under LAWA.