Years of inaction by Congress on comprehensive immigration reform may be challenged with continuing controversy over the legality of Arizona’s immigration law.

In a federal lawsuit filed July 6 in Arizona, the U.S. Department of Justice made good on its promise to challenge Arizona’s immigration law.

Arizona law S.B. 1070, which is due to take effect July 29, was challenged on the basis that it unconstitutionally interferes with the federal government’s authority to set and enforce immigration policy, according to a news release from the Department of Justice. The department has requested a preliminary injunction to stop enforcement of the law.

The administration said that “the Constitution and federal law do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country.”

Firing back, Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer said it is wrong for the federal government to sue the people of Arizona for helping to enforce federal immigration law.

Industry reaction

Industry: Congress fails on immigration

Ciruli

Chuck Ciruli Jr., partner in Ciruli Bros. LLC, Rio Rico, Ariz., said he believes the federal government has failed Arizona.

“The governor is just trying to protect our state,” he said July 8. “I believe the border is out of control and the federal government is not doing what they are responsible for.”

Business leaders in Arizona have expressed concern about possible boycotts of the state. What’s more, there is some uncertainty about farm labor availability after the law takes effect.

Industry: Congress fails on immigration

Guenther

“This is the problem we all face without any strong leadership in Washington to take on this issue on a comprehensive and national level,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association. “This has been the most dramatic reaction from a state so far in taking matters into their own hands.”

Lawmakers must decide how to secure the borders, have a sufficient guest worker program and find a way to deal with the current undocumented population in the U.S., Guenther said. “We’ve got to come together and figure that out.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by Jason Resnick, general counsel for Western Growers, Irvine, Calif., which represents growers in California and Arizona.

“This should be a wakeup call for Congress and the president to move forward on immigration reform,” Resnick said.

More states could begin copying Arizona’s approach, he said.

“The longer the federal government takes to act, the more patchwork legislation we are going to see until ultimately there will be so much conflict between the states and the different laws and views on immigration that the federal government will be forced to act,” Resnick said.

Resnick said AgJobs legislation should be a priority. President Obama seems open to helping agriculture find a legal work force, he said.

“We do think there is a brief window to move AgJobs forward, and there is certainly the need for it.”

There are only rumors whether Arizona’s immigration law will affect the farm labor supply.

“We’ve heard anecdotally that there are people who feel they will be harassed by the law and have chosen to move out of Arizona to avoid that perceived harassment, and I’ve heard anecdotally that workers that migrate from California to Arizona and back are going to forego the trip to Arizona this year because of the perceived harassment,” Resnick said. “We don’t know yet what will happen.”