Absent meaningful reform of the nation's immigration laws by Congress, the Bush administration has ordered all companies doing business with the federal government to ensure their employees can work in the United States legally. The federal government has an obligation to uphold the rule of law. This step was long overdue.

The checks will be as good as the federal government's E-Verify system itself. Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff says E-Verify has been a success. Critics say errors in the Social Security database may lead to false rejections of legal residents and citizens. As the first large-scale mandatory use of this system unfolds, government officials will soon learn if it is accurate and effective at detecting the fraudulent use of Social Security numbers.

Many groups that champion immigration restrictions support the use of E-Verify. However, Bush's executive order is no substitute for passage of comprehensive immigration reform that includes guest worker programs and enforcement. There is little chance that Congress will take up this issue prior to the November elections, so it needs to be a front-burner issue for the next Congress. The next president also must make this issue a priority.

Somehow, Congress and the next president need to hold vocal anti-immigration forces at bay as they work through meaningful immigration reform. The nation's borders need to be secure, and the federal government has a legitimate need to know who is in the United States whether for work, leisure or education.

But immigration — legal or not — is also a humanitarian issue. Most people who come to the United States illegally come here to work and provide better lives for their families. Their children may be born here or come to the United States as infants. Either way, these children have no control over their circumstances. If they seek the dream of higher education, attend a Utah high school for three years and make the grades, they should be granted in-state tuition rates.

Immigration is a highly complex issue that deserves thoughtful debate that is not hijacked by one-note special interest groups. The Bush administration has taken some important steps on its own, but key administration officials such as Chertoff and U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez acknowledge that meaningful immigration reform has to come from Congress.