In our opinion: Immigration ruling reveals the need for federal regulation

Published: Tuesday, June 26 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Salt Lake Dream Team and Peaceful Uprising members sing during a rally at the Salt Lake City Library in Salt Lake City Wednesday, April 25, 2012. Monday's U.S. Supreme Court decision on Arizona's illegal immigration enforcement law may push a federal judge to rule on a similar Utah statute.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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Justices Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia may have been on opposite ends of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Monday concerning Arizona's controversial illegal-immigration law, but their conclusions lead to the same place — the need for Congress and the president to tackle the issue in a meaningful way.

Speaking for the court's majority, Kennedy wrote, "The national government has significant power to regulate immigration. With power comes responsibility, and the sound exercise of national power over immigration depends on the nation's meeting its responsibility to base its laws on a political will informed by searching, thoughtful, rational civic discourse." The majority expressed considerable compassion for Arizona and the many ramifications of illegal immigration it lives with daily.

"Phoenix is a major city of the United States, yet signs along an interstate highway 30 miles to the south warn the public to stay away. One reads, 'Danger — public warning — travel not recommended/Active drug and human smuggling area/visitors may encounter armed criminals and smuggling vehicles traveling at high rates of speed." ... "The problems posed to the state by illegal immigration must not be underestimated."

Scalia, while arguing that states have power to control their borders, lamented that Washington, under the leadership of President Obama, is refusing to enforce the laws in place. "But there has come to pass, and is with us today, the specter that Arizona and the states that support it predicted: a federal government that does not want to enforce the immigration law as written, and leaves the states' borders unprotected against immigrants whom those laws would exclude. So the issue is a stark one. Are the sovereign states at the mercy of the federal executive's refusal to enforce the nation's immigration laws?"

Both opinions lead to the same place. Congress and the president have a duty to fix immigration laws that are out of sync with reality, and to enforce the laws they pass.

The court's majority opinion — which struck down all of Arizona's controversial immigration law except for the provision that allows police officers to check the immigration status of people who appear to be in the country illegally — makes it clear that the federal government has responsibility for immigration law. Arizona's law would have required immigrants to obtain and carry registration papers, made it illegal for them to obtain a job and allowed police to arrest them without warrants. The court struck down all of those provisions, noting that states cannot make state crimes out of federal regulations.

"Permitting the state to impose its own penalties for the federal offenses here would conflict with the careful framework Congress adopted," Kennedy wrote.

What is needed is a national immigration framework based on a combination of the need to protect borders, honor the rule of law, protect family unity and to display common-sense understanding for economic issues and compassion for hard-working people seeking a better life. The Utah Compact, a document signed by thousands of Utahns with similar concerns, embodies these principles. Unfortunately, those principles so far have been at odds with the political process in Washington.

Fortunately, the lagging economy in recent years has made illegal immigration less of a concern in many states. But that is a temporary condition. It will be up to the next president to forge the type of consensus needed to bring sense to this issue.

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