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Saturday, Dec 20, 2014
Commentary

Congress, not the states, should handle immigration

BY LINTON JOAQUIN Progressive Media Project
Published:

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Congress should enact common-sense immigration reform to put an end to the frustration that has led to a patchwork of poorly conceived anti-immigrant laws at the state level.

While a panel of U.S. senators debates how to repair the immigration system, a federal appellate court panel seated 109 miles south in Richmond, Va., will be considering whether to allow parts of South Carolina’s anti-immigrant law, modeled after Arizona’s notorious SB1070, to take effect.

Almost a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court found that several key provisions of Arizona’s law were unconstitutional, affirming that the federal government has supreme authority over immigration law and enforcement.

Congress should exercise that authority now. Its failure to deal with the problems created by our out-of-date immigration laws led to a patchwork of harsh and discriminatory state laws sharing a common thread: to make life so miserable for immigrants that they “self-deport,” a term coined by the architect of several of these state laws and made famous by Mitt Romney.

Some of the provisions in these laws have included keeping undocumented immigrants from exercising their First Amendment rights, or from getting rides to work or being able to rent a house. Enforcement of the laws would certainly have subjected people of color to racial profiling.

Our organization, the National Immigration Law Center, with assistance from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center, has challenged these laws in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah.

This month, South Carolina is arguing to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond that key parts of its law were wrongly blocked by the lower court, even though the lower court’s decision was based firmly on the Supreme Court’s analysis in the Arizona case.

At issue in the South Carolina case are sections of the law that would make it a crime for a person to be unlawfully present in the state or for someone to give a ride or rent an apartment to an undocumented immigrant. The lower court found that these provisions of the South Carolina law are likely unconstitutional because they regulate in an area that properly belongs to the federal government and they conflict with federal law.

For the same reasons, the 4th Circuit should uphold the preliminary injunction and continue to block enforcement of South Carolina’s law.

But the case also should send a broader message to Washington. Congress needs to create an immigration system that responsibly meets our national needs.

Congress should read again what Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, concluded last year in Arizona v. U.S.: “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.”

We need broad and humane immigration reform that provides a clear road to citizenship for our immigrant population and promotes their full integration into our social and economic system, with all the rights and responsibilities that full integration entails.


Linton Joaquin is general counsel of the National Immigration Law Center; he wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wis. 53703; email: pmproj@progressive.org; Web site: www.progressive.org.

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