Supreme Court 'papers please' ruling hits Arizona H-1B workers

Immigration attorneys advise holders of H-1B visas to carry paperwork at all times in Arizona

WASHINGTON -- Monday's U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows Arizona police to check peoples' immigration status means that H-1B workers in the state should have their visa documents available at all times, immigration attorneys say.

The court struck down several parts of Arizona's law but nonetheless left in place a core provision allowing police officers to check the immigration status of people in the state at specific times.

If police stop or arrest someone that they also suspect may be an illegal immigrant, they can under the law check that person's immigration status, the court ruled.

Arizona's police can't simply stop a person and ask for immigration papers simply because of their race, color or national origin.

However, a traffic stop, for instance, can be the trigger for an inquiry.

How complicated this gets may depend on the training of the police officer, his or her knowledge of work visas, and whether an H-1B worker in the state has an Arizona's driver's license.

An Arizona state driver's license provides the presumption of legal residency.

Nonetheless, H-1B workers could become entangled in this law and suffer delays and even detention while local police, especially those officers and departments unfamiliar with immigration documentation, try to determine a person's status, say attorneys.

It's believed that most H-1B workers do not routinely carry visa paperwork at all times due to fears it could be lost. It can take months to replace lost documents, immigration attorneys noted.

Michael Wildes, managing partner at Wildes & Weinberg in New York, says the immigration law firm firm is advising clients, "especially those in the Arizona corridor of the nation," to carry proper documentation of their legal status.

This is a recommendation that they've been making all along, but with this ruling "it's particularly crucial," he said.

Foreign workers should always carry their visa and passport, their I-797 approval form, as well as their I-94 arrival-departure record, said Wildes.

The practical advice for work visa holders as a result of this decision is to carry documentation, said Marko Maglich, an immigration attorney at White & Case in New York. If an H-1B worker hasn't been in the habit of carrying their documents, he or she "better do it now," he said.

It's uncertain how this law will play out in the state over the long term.

If an H-1B worker carries a California drivers license and is pulled over on a traffic stop in Arizona, the presumption of legal status with an Arizona driver's license goes away, said Jorge Lopez, co-chair of the Immigration & Global Migration Practice at Littler Mendelson.

Lopez advises that visa holders at least carry copies of all their pertinent documents.

Eleanor Pelta, the president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said temporary visa holders are not required to carry their documents in Arizona, but they "may feel more comfortable carrying paperwork showing their legal status" because of the ruling.

Pelta, an immigration attorney at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, noted that the Supreme Court's decision "leaves a door open to challenge the 'show me your papers' provision as applied in a particular instance. It is possible that [the law] may still be challenged and struck down in another suit," she said.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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