Make a federal case over it
The Gallup folks tell us that Americans, by a 17-point margin, oppose the Obama administration’s decision to go to court to challenge the legality of Arizona’s controversial immigration law. On this one, Americans are wrong. Regardless of where you stand on the Arizona law, there is plenty of room for discussion of it. And, we believe, the courthouse is a good place for that discussion.
This one is worth making a federal case over.
“Emotions run high on both sides of the issue,” Gallup said in reporting that 50 percent of respondents oppose the lawsuit and 33 percent favor it. “The substantial majority of those in favor and those opposed to the lawsuit say they feel strongly about their position.”
No surprise there. No current issue — not same-sex marriage, not Iraq, not LeBron James — generates as much heat as illegal immigration. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll get a sense of that heat in online comments generated by this editorial. If you’re reading this online, just scroll down.
The Justice Department lawsuit rightfully questions whether Arizona lawmakers, by giving local law enforcement agencies the power to enforce immigration law, illegally stepped into what solely should be a federal responsibility. It’s a solid question, one that must be answered before other states get into the immigration enforcement business.
Lawmakers in 20 states have expressed interest in passing a statute like Arizona’s, which directs police, as they are enforcing other laws, to ask about immigration status if there is reason to believe a person is illegally in the U.S. Nine states, including Texas, filed a legal brief this week siding with Arizona in the courthouse battle with the feds.
We’re on record as fearing that the Arizona law, despite language aimed at preventing it, will lead to profiling. President Barack Obama has expressed similar concern.
“These laws also have the potential of violating the rights of innocent American citizens and legal residents, making them subject to possible stops or questioning because of what they look like or how they sound,” the president said in a recent immigration speech.
On the other hand, we see no reason why state and local law enforcement officials should have to turn a blind eye to violations of immigration law, or, for that matter, any federal law. But how and when that should be done are tricky questions. We trust the federal courts to sort that out. That’s why we support the Obama administration lawsuit that should lead to that resolution.
Here’s something else on which we think most folks should be able to agree: If nothing else, the Arizona law and the resulting lawsuit should nudge Congress toward the immigration law overhaul that everyone knows is needed. The current system does not work. Anybody disagree?
“The system is broken,” Obama said. “And everybody knows it.”
In his speech, the president sounded the oft-repeated refrain about the U.S. as “a nation of immigrants.” We’d like to add a yes-but to that. What we have striven to be is a nation of legal immigrants. As Obama noted, we now have an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants within our borders.
The lawsuit challenging the Arizona law is one prong in what must be a multi-faceted approach to figuring out what to do about the 11 million. Blanket amnesty is unreasonable, just as unreasonable as the notion of mass deportation.
“Now once we get past the two poles of this debate, it becomes possible to shape a practical, common-sense approach that reflects our heritage and our values,” Obama said.
We agree with his basic tenets, including a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants and stiff penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
“We have to demand responsibility from people living here illegally,” Obama said. “They must be required to admit that they broke the law. They should be required to register, pay their taxes, pay a fine and learn English. They must get right with the law before they can get in line and earn their citizenship.”
We need comprehensive immigration reform, though we can’t seem to agree on exactly what that means. But failure to find the political will to come up with consensus carries great peril for our nation.
Without nationwide consensus, we might see more states getting into the immigration enforcement business. And that’s why we need the federal courts to weigh in.