The Firms

May 10, 2010 3:49 PM

Arizona Firm Leaders Weigh In on Controversial New Immigration Law

Posted by Brian Baxter

With President Barack Obama nominating Elena Kagan on Monday to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice John Paul Stevens's retirement, pundits ramped up their speculation about how Kagan's Senate confirmation hearings will play out, as well how the Court will be affected, if she is ultimately confirmed.

One area of the law--and Kagan's theories about dealing with it--that is likely to come up during the confirmation process involves illegal immigration, a hot topic these days thanks to Arizona's passage of legislation that authorizes police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants.

As it happens, while that new law is expected to draw constitutional challenges, the high court is getting ready to hear a challenge to a different Arizona immigration law, one passed two years ago that punishes employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.


"That law was the tougher one," says John Bouma (pictured right), chairman of 400-lawyer Snell & Wilmer. "It says that any business that hired illegals that weren't e-verified could be shut down. That got a lot of people's attention down here."

Bouma was one of five leaders of large Phoenix-based firms contacted by The Am Daily for their reactions to Arizona's controversial new immigration law, which has already received legal challenges from two of the state's largest cities and has divided the law enforcement community. (Click here for a copy of the law, called SB 1070.)

"It's an exceptionally complicated issue, but all sides that I've heard from are in agreement that we need comprehensive federal immigration reform," says Rodolfo "Rudy" Parga, Jr., managing partner of 120-lawyer Ryley Carlock & Applewhite. "In terms of the business community and our clients, they're both concerned about the potential implications of the new law."

Indeed, Parga, who was born in the border city of El Paso, says that some of his firm's clients in Arizona's tourism industry are already feeling the effects of canceled reservations and other economic boycotts. The image of intolerance being perpetrated by activists opposed to the Arizona legislation, whether fair or unfair, is undoubtedly having an adverse effect on some businesses and causing concern among business and political leaders. 

"Arizona is probably going to take a little bit longer to come out of this recession than other states because our main industries are construction, development, and tourism," Parga says. "The economic backlash that we're beginning to experience directly targets tourism, which is a huge component of us being able to successfully pull out of this recession."

As reported by sibling publication the New York Law Journal, an American Bar Association-backed conference on immigration scheduled in Phoenix this week has been beset by a spate of cancellations from panelists and other participants opposed to the immigration law. (Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer also wrote this op-ed for criticizing boycotts of the state's professional sports teams, even as Phoenix's NBA team picked a unique way to voice its opposition to the law.)

Snell's Bouma says he attended an event in Arizona with several CEOs last week where the mood was one of disappointment over the governor's decision to sign an immigration bill that will hurt local businesses.

"The reaction from business leaders is that this is something the state could have done without, primarily because of the underlying hit to its reputation," he says. But Bouma also sees resentment brewing within business circles toward the way those on both sides of the immigration debate are trying to exploit the issue for political gain.

"The law itself really doesn't do anything more than the federal statute in making certain things illegal other than saying that local law enforcement agencies can get more involved," he adds. (Last week sibling publication The National Law Journal spoke with Kris Kobach, the law professor who helped craft the controversial new Arizona law; Kobach has also written an op-ed for The New York Times defending the legislation.)

Other Arizona law firm leaders believe the immigration debate is more of a social issue than a legal one for firms to be engaged in with their clients.

"As someone who grew up here, I think it's important to recognize that Arizona has strong multicultural traditions, which, sadly, the recent legislation has eclipsed," said Fennemore Craig managing partner Timothy Berg in a statement to The Am Law Daily.

Berg says the impact that illegal immigration has on border states may be hard for those who live in other parts of the country--and don't regularly confront the issue--to comprehend. Bouma, who used to live near Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona, echoes that sentiment.

"The people who live south of Interstate 10, below Tucson all the way to the Mexican border, literally live in a war zone," Bouma says. "It's not safe down there. The people who own property or live on ranches are not safe. It's easy to sit somewhere else and say, 'Oh well, what are they worried about?'"

The killing of an Arizona rancher in late March helped further stoke the already heated immigration debate within the state. All the lawyers interviewed for this story--calls to Lewis and Roca managing partner Kenneth Van Winkle, Jr., and Gallagher & Kennedy managing partner Dean Short II were not returned--believe that the federal government needs to take a more active role in solving the illegal immigration problem to take pressure off the states.


"There certainly will be some consequences to the new law, and I think it will be challenged," says Parga (pictured left), adding that clients interested in pursuing litigation have approached his firm. But Ryley Carlock, which has three offices in Arizona, won't be able to help them.

Parga says that like many other firms, no matter how important an issue might be, if there are political interests at play, the firm itself chooses to stay on the sidelines.

"It's best not to get involved in those types of fights because we have so many different interests with different clients," he says. "[The new law] has been very polarizing in the state of Arizona and I don't see that getting better any time soon. This is going to play out for quite some time."

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Bouma makes a great argument. Those who are not avoiding Arizona due to boycott should avoid it because it's a war zone.

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