In February, a federal judge extended an injunction against the Utah immigration enforcement law passed last March. That law, as well as another law which would provide for a guest worker and immigrant sponsor program (both poised to go into effect in 2013) were Utah’s “shot across the bow” signaling the state’s desire to enact immigration reform in the face of the federal government’s seeming inaction on the issue.
The power to make immigration law and policy is one that is reserved exclusively to the federal government under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution and the Immigration and Naturalization Act. However, not all state laws that have to do with immigration are pre-empted by federal law, and the federal government and the State of Utah have already presented their arguments to the federal judge hearing a lawsuit brought by the federal government against the State of Utah to invalidate the enforcement law on Supremacy Clause grounds.
At this point, due to the highly polarized political rhetoric with regard to immigration reform within the federal government, the issue of reform has become a political third rail for federal lawmakers. There is a lot of empassioned talk on both sides of the issue, but not much has come of it. The reality is that there are substantial, unnecessary barriers to legal immigration — including the prohibitive cost of legal entry, extraordinarily long waiting lists for entry from certain countries (in some cases 10 years or longer) — which need to be addressed by the federal government. Additionally, there are real security issues which also need attention, and cannot be addressed by short-sighted legislation that could ultimately lead to increased racial profiling and harassment of racial minorities by government actors.
Clearly, the State of Utah, with its guest worker and immigrant sponsor program, in addition to the immigration enforcement measures, is attempting to address the duality of the illegal immigration issue: America does not seem to want immigrants/workers to enter the country illegally; however, we depend on immigrant labor to keep the country working. Unfortunately, state immigration laws really only provide a Band-Aid remedy to the larger issues with immigration in this country, and in the case of most enforcement measures, will likely lead to further abuse and exploitation of undocumented immigrants. It is the obligation of the federal government to create, enforce and reform immigration policy, and the federal government is uniquely situated to do so. It is time for the government to do its job and work toward bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform.