This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
"Immigration is not about them: it is about all of us." Javier de Lucas, professor of law, University of Valencia, Spain
The federal government has shirked its responsibility to address immigration challenges. Frustration in Utah is understandable. However, state action would be costly and unwise.
The Constitution and Supreme Court decisions are clear: Immigration authority is federal. States can complement federal law, but they cannot assume control. Even copying federal law into state law can violate the Supremacy Clause and federal pre-emption.
Utah has less than 1 percent of the U.S. population and no international borders. Utah solutions for immigration pro-immigrant, anti-immigrant or a blend defy law and logic.
Utah legislators trying to learn about immigration and to craft legislation typically begin their arguments: "Immigration is a federal issue, but… ." Wisdom would dictate changing the comma to a period.
Members of the Legislature have told me that legislative attorneys have little experience or expertise in immigration law, and why would they? Immigration is simply not a state issue; nevertheless, there is no shortage of proposals to make it one. And they share many of the same problems:
1. They are crafted behind closed doors.
2. A few special interests, with significant guidance from out of state, are driving them, ignoring the public interest.
3. Time and money spent on these proposals, and presumably defending them in court, are being diverted from such pressing public needs as job creation, education and health.
Enforcing these proposals would scare the Latino community, which would be disinclined to cooperate with police investigations of crimes committed by and against immigrants. But their greatest impact would be economic, disrupting businesses that hire immigrants and muddying the state's image.
Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, the sponsor of an Arizona-style anti-immigration bill, has acknowledged that the federal government probably would decline the cases of undocumented immigrants stopped for state traffic infractions or minor violations of law. Moreover, the almost certain destination of new state immigration laws would be federal court, where their constitutionality would be in serious question.
Guest-worker programs could help Utah businesses meet labor needs. Immigrant labor, documented and undocumented, plainly has contributed to economic development. These are not true immigration proposals. Rather, proponents have tried to twist Utah law to take advantage of the federal system. This concerns cheap labor, not wise public policy.
States cannot grant immigration status, so immigrant worker programs would not address undocumented workers in Utah without federal action. This is lost in much of the debate and coverage.
Sooner or later, federal immigration reform will occur. Some labels include "comprehensive immigration reform," "amnesty," "rule of law" and "regularization." The labels serve partisan purposes. Society should look to policy.
Federal immigration reform should address the following:
1. Resolution of immigration status for approximately 11 million people.
2. Streamlining family-based immigration processes.
3. Adjusting family-based and employment-based immigration quotas to meet societal and economic needs.
4. Improving immigration procedures for global competitiveness.
5. Implementation of genuine employment verification that holds both employees and employers accountable.
6. Flexible border policy that addresses criminal and security threats, but allows orderly flows of people and commerce.
7. Integration of immigrants.
8. International collaboration.
At the federal level, let's reform an outdated immigration system. In Utah, let's focus on job creation, education and health.
Mark Alvarez is an attorney from Salt Lake City and a member of the city Library Board.