Restaurant industry weighs Supreme Court immigration ruling

The industry is undecided

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled on the 2010 Arizona immigration law, upholding one key element and striking down three other parts of the state legislation, which has continued to be a hot-button issue within the restaurant industry.

By a unanimous 8-0 vote, the decision handed down by Justice Anthony Kennedy upheld the aspect of the law that grants Arizona police officers the authority to check the immigration status of people they choose to stop for any reason.

However, in a split decision, the members of the Court ruled against the law’s three other provisions. These aspects require immigrants to carry immigration papers on them at all times, ban immigrants from soliciting work in public places and allow Arizona police to arrest immigrants without warrants if officers believe they've committed crimes that would make them deportable.

“At the end of the day, both sides have a little something to claim victory on,” said Joe Kefauver, managing partner and principal for Parquet Public Affairs, an Orlando, Fla.-based consulting and public affairs firm that works with restaurants. “The important thing is, based on this decision today and the E-Verify decision from a year ago, the court has basically said that states can dabble in immigration, as long as they don’t go out of the federal framework …and inflict stricter penalties [than those levied by the federal government.] States cannot supersede federal dominance.”

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With the ruling of great concert to many in the foodservice community given the industry’s pervasive demand for labor, several prominent organizations weighed in on the outcome.

“Given the current immigration law largely prevents the hiring of foreign essential workers, [the International Franchise Association] supports reform of U.S. immigration policy, including a proper e-verify system and a temporary worker program to facilitate a sustainable workforce for the American economy while ensuring our national security and prosperity,” said Judith Thorman, senior vice president for Government Relations and Public Policy for the International Franchise Association.

At the same time, while much of industry supports reform, members generally oppose locally based solutions to the immigration issue, noting that a patchwork quilt of state laws is not the way to address the problem.

“The National Restaurant Association supports common-sense immigration reforms that combine worksite enforcement and strong borders with a legal visa system that meets U.S. worksite needs," said Angelo Amador, vice president, labor and workforce policy for the National Restaurant Association. "Employers need a new uniform federal verification system, not a patchwork of inconsistent state and local laws. But employers also need a new temporary worker program to address future demand for essential workers given our aging population,”

Those in the industry are also aware of the complex relationship that exists along U.S.-Mexico border and its importance to both sides.

“We need to get a handle on who’s coming across and what they are coming across for," Richie Jackson, chief executive of the Texas Restaurant Association, told Nation’s Restaurant News. “We also don’t want to alienate people who are our friends to the south. My hopes are that we can approach this in a real commonsense way.”

Paul Frumkin and Ron Ruggless contributed to this report.

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