On Friday, the Utah legislature followed Arizona’s footsteps (or is that missteps?) and passed The Utah Immigration Accountability and Enforcement Act. The law is another ill-advised attempt by a state to regulate immigration.
Even though it’s sweetened with a temporary worker provision and leaves out some of the draconian document carrying—“papers please”—requirements of the Arizona law, the Utah law nevertheless dangerously intrudes into a policy area that is solely the province of the federal government.
Any attempt by a state to regulate immigration, even an attempt to shelter or legalize unauthorized aliens, is an unconstitutional invasion into the role of the federal government. At bottom, the power to regulate immigration is about national sovereignty. If each state implemented its own immigration policy there would be little point in having a union of states called the United States. Thus, it’s hardly melodramatic to suggest that while immigration policy is the superficial focus of state legislation, the target is the very authority of the federal government itself. Coupled with other attacks on well settled principles of American civil rights, such as the Constitutional Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment, the effort threatens the very heart of American democracy as we know it.
Yet, although terribly misguided, the Utah bill underscores several important points. First, Congress and the Administration need to fix the dysfunctional immigration system, and fix it now. The collective failure of the federal government to act has left a dangerous policy void which the states, reflecting the desperation of the American people, are attempting to fill. Simply put, immigration legislation in states such as Arizona, Utah, Georgia, Tennessee, and Ohio, to name a few, show us that the American people are tired of political grandstanding and posturing in Washington. They want Congress to deliver an immigration policy that works. But mean spirited laws are not the answer. What’s needed is a national immigration policy that offers solutions and keeps America globally competitive into the 21st Century.
Third, the Utah law highlights the fact that most Americans recognize that any immigration overhaul must include a well designated temporary worker program and a pathway to immigration compliance for unauthorized workers.
Finally, the cynic in me wonders whether the sponsors of the Utah bill threw in the temporary worker provision as a ruse to temper opposition to its more onerous provisions. You see, its implementation depends on a “waiver” from the federal government. But no such waiver exists in the law! Even the Utah legislative counsel questioned the legality of the temporary worker provision in a note at the end of the bill and predicted the U.S. Supreme Court would find it unconstitutional. Clearly, the temporary worker provision of the Utah law will never be implemented without an act of Congress. Of course it’s Congress’ failure to act—to fashion a safe, orderly, and globally competitive immigration policy—that has created this problem in the first place.
We have come full circle. It’s time for Washington to close the loop.