Supreme Court ruling a reminder of the need for comprehensive immigration reform
How split was Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s immigration law? Split enough for prominent voices on both sides to proclaim triumph.
But beyond the debate over the legal and political implications of the high court’s decision endures this indisputable truth: If the federal government had not long ago abdicated its obligations to both effectively make and diligently enforce immigration laws, Arizona and four other states — including South Carolina — would not have felt the need to pass their own immigration laws in the last few years.
There’s a strong practical case that the national government should take the lead in securing our national borders.
And judging from Monday’s high court decision, there’s also a strong legal case for that common-sense concept.
Yet though the court struck down three elements of Arizona’s immigration law, which took effect in 2010, as unconstitutional, it upheld one major controversial provision. Under the law, police, when stopping people while enforcing other laws, are allowed to question their immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that they are in the United States illegally.
Many civil libertarians have condemned that as the “show me your papers” rule. But the court voted unanimously (8-0) on giving state and local police that authority. (Justice Elena Kagan fittingly recused herself in this case due to her past position as solicitor general in the Obama administration when it began its legal challenge against the Arizona law.)
Then again, the court prohibited state and local police from arresting people on “minor” immigration charges.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican who championed the law, accentuated the positive Monday, hailing the court outcome as a “victory for the rule of law.”
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson was only a bit less enthusiastic, saying that the decision “contains a major victory” for law enforcement in our state, adding: “The most important element of South Carolina’s law, the ability of law enforcement to verify a suspected illegal alien’s status upon an ‘authorized lawful detention,’ was found to be constitutional on its face.”
And President Barack Obama found a silver lining of his own, saying he was “pleased that the Supreme Court has struck down key provisions of Arizona’s immigration law.”
Those provisions, eliminated by a 5-3 vote, required all immigrants to acquire or carry immigration registration papers, made it a state crime for an illegal immigrant to hold or even seek a job, and gave police the authority to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants.
Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in voting against striking down those provisions, was particularly vehement in the dissent he read from the bench. He even made this derisive reference to President Obama’s recent decision to stop enforcing federal law against illegal immigrants up to the age of 30 who were brought to this country as children: “... to say, as the Court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of the Immigration Act that the President declines to enforce boggles the mind.”
Again, however, despite the deep divisions on this issue, there is one area of widespread agreement.
As President Obama said Monday: “Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform” because a “patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system.”
That sounds a lot like what S.C. Atty. Gen. Wilson said Monday: “The fact remains that we need comprehensive legal immigration reform and that the federal government must step up its border patrol or allow states to combat illegal immigration.”
The sooner we get immigration reform from Congress and responsible enforcement of immigration law from the federal government, the sooner states will stop trying to fill those gaps.