Federalism Lives!

By James R. Edwards, Jr. on April 14, 2010

The Arizona legislature is showing that federalism still lives. State lawmakers have passed a bill to make it a state crime to reside in the state without proof of lawful U.S. residence. The legislation also empowers police officers to check a suspect's immigration status.

The legislation still needs the governor's signature to be enacted. And open-borders advocates are sure to obstruct the law in court. But the significance of Arizona's state legislation should not be missed. Further, such activity at the state and local level is healthy.

Open-borders types often decry such state and local activity. They claim the federal government has sole jurisdiction over immigration. Certainly, Congress holds plenary power to decide the rules of immigrant admission, exclusion, quotas, the numbers of which types of visas to award, naturalization, deportation, etc. But states and localities still enjoy broad sway under the Tenth Amendment to deal with all sorts of things, including the consequences of immigration as they play out locally in so many ways. This flexes the principle of federalism, which can help guard against the federal government's encroachment on areas where states and localities justly retain jurisdiction.

As well, state and local legislation relating to immigration's local consequences makes for constructive, responsible problem-solving in something that presents a range of very real problems, community threats, and unpopular disruptions. The alternative, if not only federal but also local officials fail to step up and address these problems, is not pretty. Government's ignoring the public's concerns can easily translate into individuals taking matters into their own hands. Thus, state and local lawmaking to handle immigration-related issues is the better approach that helps maintain public order and peace.

Numerous states, counties, cities, and towns have enacted local policies that address the nettlesome fallout of overly generous federal immigration policies and inadequate federal enforcement of the laws on the books. These laws and ordinances deal with such things as ensuring the businesses that contract with government have a lawful workforce; landlords rent only to lawful residents; safety ordinances are observed; and local police have the tools and cooperation of immigration authorities to identify, detain, and remove illegal and criminal aliens.

At least 14 states have adopted mandatory E-Verify employment eligibility requirements for certain employers. Some 29 states have made it tougher for illegal aliens to obtain driver's licenses, made their licenses more fraud-resistant, or both. Several states have moved to block illegal aliens from the privilege of in-state college tuition discounts. As of last fall, 67 state and local law enforcement agencies participated in the 287(g) program, which provides training and cooperation from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Arizona already has a relatively strong law that deals with illegal and criminal aliens, adopted by ballot initiative. This latest legislation takes the next logical step. More states should follow Arizona's lead and flex their federalist muscles.