In a move that could spark more intensive workplace immigration enforcement, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld Arizona’s law requiring mandatory use of the federal E-Verify system for employers hiring new workers.

In a decision released May 26, the Supreme Court voted 5-3 to uphold Arizona’s immigration law.

The decision concluded Arizona’s licensing law is not expressly preempted by federal law.

The law allows Arizona to revoke business licenses of employers that knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

In addition, the decision said Arizona’s E-Verify mandate is not preempted by federal law. E-Verify is a federal Web-based system for checking the eligibility status of workers.

“The fact that the federal government may require the use of E-Verify in only limited circumstances says nothing about what the States may do,” the Supreme Court decision said.

Industry sources have said in recent months that mandatory E-Verify use by agricultural employers could result in the loss of as much as 50% or 75% of produce industry workforce.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he was pleased with the decision to uphold the Arizona law and would soon introduce legislation to expand E-Verify and make it mandatory across the U.S.

Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, said he was surprised by the ruling.

“I thought the Supreme Court would hold that the federal government has the last word on immigration issues,” he said.

He said the ruling could translate to more effort by states and the federal government to impose mandatory use of E-Verify on all employers.

“It sure potentially opens the floodgates (for states) to pass their laws and know they are not likely to be challenged,” he said.

Gasperini said that Congress may consider adding preemptive language in future immigration legislation to prevent states from enacting their own enforcement measures.

Another possible issue that could be headed to the courts is Utah’s creation of a state guest worker program, Gasperini said.

Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said in a May 26 statement that the fresh produce industry needs access to a legal workforce.

“United Fresh and the produce industry support the adoption of a consistent federal labor eligibility standard, including a workable guest worker program, to meet these critical labor needs,” Guenther said.

He called on Congress to support the millions of American jobs and take the steps to ensure a sufficient labor supply for growers.