Immigration is inherently a divisive issue. It is one that deals with the core features of our identity, as a nation, as well as the livelihoods of the thousands of individuals who make the trip to America in hope of a better future for themselves, as well as their progeny. For many who go into this field, whether as political consultants or policymakers, there is often a vested interest to become a symbol of their culture, their identity, their stakeholder in our nation’s debate.
Perhaps for this reason, along with many more, there are many identifiable problems with the current system, including but not limited to the esoteric specificity that can make or break an application, wait times for applicants that can pass by their most productive work years, and a current administration that is willing to split families at the border as a negotiation tactic.
Who Should Act?
Despite all of the problems with current policies, we cannot allow for the perfect to be the enemy of the good. To allow for states to have control over policies in their jurisdiction is not only a violation of the constitutional laws that uphold the foundation of our nation, but also a degradation of the very people we are trying to help: our citizens and potential immigrants.
For local governments to pass and enforce laws that contrast with the authority of the federal government, it must be constitutional, which is why Utah hasn’t been able to implement its guest-worker law 3 years after enactment. But even if states had the ability to, on a practical note, this would be problematic for a couple of reasons:
First, bills like Arizona’s SB 1070 costs a single county over $100 million as estimated by Sheriff Ogden in attorney fees, jail costs, interpreters, etc. If they cannot find the funds to pay, and the state is now delegated with responsibility to enforce specific laws only applicable in certain regions, there would be no enforcement mechanism whatsoever, comparatively worse than the status quo. This is especially damning given that approximately 64% of illegal immigrants are not ones attempting to go to bypass border, but rather ones that have overstayed their visas.
Many advocates of locally-based government immigration policies believe that having the power to enact these laws will allow regions to request specialized workers that improve the economic infrastructure of the region e.g. California may not need software engineers given the number that already flock to Silicon Valley, but that may not be the case for Minnesota. Having specialized considerations enables these regions to account for the industries they want to grow. However, the lack of enforcement isolated in the paragraph above only exacerbates if already stretched out funds defending the border are then used to defend local government borders to prevent immigrants with visas from moving to another area of the country where their visa may not be recognized.
But lastly, assume that all of these technical problems can be overcome by the policies passed. States are notorious for leaning a certain way e.g. Kentucky is overwhelmingly Republican. If states with strong feelings on immigration decide the immigration policies, they have the political willpower for extremism. This is empirically proven:
Bills like Arizona’s justify questioning anyone the locals believe are illegal. Even citizens don’t carry passports, and the lack of papers would result in detention if they don’t “appear” legal. Minorities, especially those with accents, are likely to face racial profiling, enabling deportation without accountability or justification. Federal judges note that making police ascertain the immigration status of suspects is a constitutional violation since police “are not trained to discern suspicion of unlawful presence without consideration of the person’s race, color, or national origin.”
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Our nation has still remarkably built one of the most transformative systems of democracy and representation from the ground up. We cannot, will not, must not revert to the nativist legislation of the 1800s on matters like immigration by giving states this power. We the people, we the next generation, we the statemen, must listen to the other side, cross the aisle and shake hands, and most importantly, make compromises in order for any of the problems outlined above to ever have a chance at changing.