Don't put immigration reform on the back shelf
BY MIKE JONES Associate Editor
Sunday, July 01, 2012
7/01/12 at 4:05 AM
At the end of last week, the public's attention (the span can be short) shifted from outrage over the Supreme Court's decision on immigration to its ruling on health care.
The good news for those supporting some progress in immigration reform is it deflected the attention of the hardliners away from stifling any immigration reform and turned it to finger-wagging and spinning the court's decision to uphold President Obama's health care law.
The bad news is, it deflected attention away from immigration reform.
When the justices knocked down most of Arizona's draconian immigration law it offered the opportunity for those genuinely concerned about fair, and needed, reform to apply the pressure directly where it belonged - on Congress and the president.
The court said that immigration enforcement is not a function of the states and their individual laws, but the federal government's, as stipulated in the Constitution by the supremacy clause. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, relied on the principle that the federal government is given the power, exclusively, over immigration policy because the federal government controls relations with foreign powers. The Arizona law ran up against the supremacy clause and, clearly, the supremacy clause supersedes state law.
The Arizona law had given state law enforcement officers the power to arrest without a warrant anyone who they had "probable cause to believe" had committed a crime. It also made it a crime to not carry immigration papers while in the state and for an undocumented immigrant to apply for a job or to work in the state.
States such as Arizona - and Oklahoma, among others - have spent the past few years making anti-immigration laws that were obviously unconstitutional. In the face of a growing anti-immigrant movement with disturbingly racial overtones, many politicians found fertile political ground. State legislators and governors, especially those whose states had a growing population of immigrants, lined up to pledge to rid their respective states of illegal immigrants who were taking good American jobs away from legal Americans and taking advantage of our generosity. That is what has led to the patchwork of state laws, each more onerous than the next, regarding immigration.
In the meantime, those running for federal offices could reap the political benefits of such hyperbole and not have to do a thing about it. Candidates for Congress and president could rail at the federal government for not "doing anything to stop the invasion" of illegal immigrants when, in fact, they were the ones not doing anything about it - and getting away with it politically.
No doubt, the anti-immigrant movement was somewhat borne out of frustration by the federal government's refusal to take any action. There are many in this camp who have legitimate concerns about the effect of illegal immigration on the country.
They, however, have been shouted down by the radicals and xenophobes in the movement - and by those looking for an easy vote. A discussion on immigration - legal and illegal - is complicated. It can be and has been derailed simply by poster-board slogans and fear tactics.
Whether the proponents of the tough state laws will admit it or not, many of these laws, maybe unintended, profiled anyone with brown skin. Such laws make it just as possible that a legal immigrant could be pulled over, asked for papers and even jailed simply because of the color of his or her skin.
Such laws and possibilities ought to give every American cause for concern. We are, after all, a nation of immigrants.
Here is where I put in the paragraph that, yes, I know the difference between legal and illegal. Do some of the people who were making these silly laws know the difference?
This country needs to have a serious and constructive discussion about illegal immigration. It won't get done, however, at the state level. Making bad law and spending scant state funds to defend them might finally be coming to an end.
Now is the time for voters and state officials to expend that same energy and get Congress and the president to do their jobs and form a workable, fair immigration policy.
This is no time to allow this important issue to be put on the back shelf. The health care decision is going to dominate headlines until at least November.
But as for immigration reform, let's keep our eye on the ball.
Original Print Headline: Deflections
Mike Jones, 918-581-8332