How the U.S. courts can spur immigration reform
Posted on May 31, 2011
The Supreme Court of the United States made a decision on Thursday in favour of an Arizona statute – one that does not help resolve the status of the 11 million people whom President Barack Obama calls “undocumented immigrants.” But if the Legal Arizona Workers Act sets a trend for many other states, it could at least force the issue and induce Congress to pass sensible immigration-reform legislation, in order to regularize the position of the millions of illegal immigrants who are well established in the U.S. – and on whom the American economy has come to depend.
This is not the notorious Arizona law that encourages police to stop people to check their immigration status, inevitably affecting anybody who looks Mexican (including Mexican residents visiting the U.S., as President Felipe Calderon has pointed out); the constitutional case about that is still in progress. Instead, the LAWA requires businesses to check the status of job applicants through a federal system called E-Verify, and imposes fines, and even licence cancellation, on firms that knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce coalesced with civil-liberties associations to challenge the LAWA; 13 states supported Arizona. Seven states already have similar laws.
The various judges’ opinions in this case cannot be recommended as good reading; they wrestled with the coexistence of overlapping federal and state laws, rather than engaging the broad policy issues of immigration. Mr. Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the swing vote, sided with the more conservative judges, and the Arizona statute was upheld.
This result was reasonable enough in itself. States can regulate businesses in the interests of their citizens, and should be able to take illegal immigration into account in doing so. But the decision raises the ugly prospect of a United States divided between one group of states that accept or tolerate “undocumented” workers and another group that exclude or persecute them.
In the end, Mr. Obama – or, if need be, one of his successors – must work with a realistic and fair-minded Congress, in order to set up a process to legalize the irregular status of otherwise law-abiding immigrants.
29 May 2011
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