This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
Illegal immigration is a problem only the federal government can fix. America can’t have 50 states with 50 different immigration policies.
The U.S. Supreme Court was right Monday when it killed Arizona’s move to criminalize job-seeking by illegal aliens, arrest them without warrants and require all immigrants to carry papers.
Arizona usurped federal authority when it included those provisions in the hard-line immigration law it enacted in 2010. Most media hotheads have focused on another part of the law, the one that would allow police officers to check the immigration status of criminal suspects. But that practice tracks existing federal policy: Police departments across the country already work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The court has slapped down renegade states trying to run their own immigration policies. But the Arizona law and others like it are only symptoms. The problem that drove Arizona crazy in the first place – the U.S. government’s conflicted, incoherent approach to illegal immigration – hasn’t been touched.
A politically realistic immigration solution would have four components:
• Work visas and a path to permanent residency for illegal immigrants who have roots and family in this country. Seasonal visas should be readily available for farming and other industries that depend on migrants.
• Aggressive enforcement against employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers – often because they don’t want to pay the going wages for unskilled U.S. labor.
• Strict, effective border control.
• Credible guarantees that the federal law will continue to be enforced in future years.
Advocates of illegal immigrants like the first component, as do employers who profit from cheap labor, as do Democrats who see a potential jackpot of new Hispanic voters. Many of them don’t like the last three.
Immigration hard-liners – including many Republican politicians who cater to backlash – like the last three components but not the first.
Unfortunately, these two camps have been powerful enough to prevent Congress from approving any real solution to illegal immigration. When the issue heats up, it’s usually because politicians are pandering to constituencies; good-faith efforts to actually solve the problem have been few and far between.
Arizona has been a side show, and the high court is shutting it down. Now the spotlight can go back to where it belongs: on Congress, the real culprit behind America’s immigration debacle.