States do have role in immigration reform

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld an important Arizona immigration law, but not the law that caused such a ruckus when it was approved last year.

The 2007 law in this case allows the state to revoke the business licenses of firms that knowingly employ illegal immigrants.

That’s sensible. States grant licenses to businesses within their borders, and they should have the authority to revoke those licenses when companies knowingly violate federal and state laws.

But the dispute also points to a larger issue about the need for a more effective system to allow legal immigrants to work here and meet the undeniable demand for their services.

Opponents of the Arizona law — including the Obama administration, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, labor unions and civil rights groups — had argued that the statute violates federal law that grants authority to federal agencies to control immigration.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion in the 5-3 high court decision, rejected that argument. “Regulating in-state businesses through licensing laws has never been considered such an area of dominant federal concern,” he said.

Colorado adopted its own law during 2006 to penalize employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. However, because Colorado’s law uses fines to punish companies, rather than revoking business licenses, it’s not clear how Thursday’s ruling might affect the law in this state.

The law Arizona passed in 2010 requires law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people they stop who they suspect are illegal immigrants, and to arrest those who fail to provide proof they are here legally.

That is a more direct intrusion into federal authority over immigration control, and one reason it is tied up in federal court.

But the two Arizona laws, Colorado’s law and other state laws — including one adopted in Utah this year that attempts to establish a legal immigrant worker system — all point to a larger problem:

A significant number of immigrants who are in this country illegally aren’t taking jobs away from Americans. They are performing tasks that most U.S. citizens don’t want to do. So employers hire them, usually pay them under the table and off the tax rolls. More and more, those workers seek to stay here permanently. They bring their families and often require government services paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

We need a better system that more easily allows larger numbers of legal immigrants to come here to work, requires them and their employers to pay appropriate taxes and provides a reasonable mechanism for the workers to go back and forth between this country and their home countries and families.

Only when that is accomplished will there be less demand for states to enact their own laws on illegal immigrants and those who employ them.


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