How to Break the Immigration Policy Impasse (4): Court of Last Resort?

By Stanley Renshon and Stanley Renshon on July 2, 2012

Those on both sides of the immigration divide have had some legislative success with their initiatives at the state level. Those hoping to further legalization for the country's 10-12 million illegal aliens have been successful in getting several states to allow some of them to gain the benefit of in-state tuition at state colleges. With that successful legislation comes a form of de facto regularization of their immigration status. After all, if a state specifically votes to grant tuition benefits to those in the country illegally, it is clearly signaling that being here illegally is viewed as no drawback to living and attending school in the United States. But such recognition goes further. It signals that such persons not only can, but should benefit from a state-mandated economic incentive arrived at through a legitimate political process.

Those wishing to have the government enforce the country's immigration laws, duly enacted by Congress and signed by the president, have also made strides. And these successes have arguably been on less narrow and more basic grounds — those that have to do with really enforcing the laws that make it difficult for illegal aliens to work and live in the United States. Some five states — Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah — crafted omnibus laws in 2011, following the lead of Arizona in 2010 that the National Conference of State Legislatures describes as follows: "The laws typically include provisions that require law enforcement to attempt to determine the immigration status of a person involved in a lawful stop; allow state residents to sue state and local agencies for noncompliance with immigration enforcement; require E-Verify; and make it a state violation for failure to carry an alien registration document."

And what has been the result of these state-level successes? The Obama administration has filed suit again the governments of Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina, and Utah seeking to preempt these laws. The Obama administration's view is that the federal government has the responsibility and the power, should it decide to exercise it — which they have not — to make these kinds of laws at the national level.

And so to whatever clarity was added on these issues by states taking their own steps to enforce the nation's immigration laws, has been added the twist of a presidential administration that is openly hostile to these efforts, but which has not made any effort to propose and defend its immigration views, aside from repeating their view that "comprehensive" immigration reform is needed. Nor has it voiced any displeasure at the steps that some states have taken to legally provide economic legal incentives to illegal aliens.

So not being able to accomplish the policies that reflect their preferred immigration views nationally, the Obama administration has used federal power to tilt the playing field at the state level in its preferred direction.

And what have been the results of these efforts? More muddles, more stalemates, and above all more protracted political and social conflict.

Next: How to Break the Immigration Policy Impasse (5): The Supreme Court Speaks … but in Tongues or view a list of the entire series.