Still a long way to go on immigration

One unanticipated, but quite welcome, effect of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Arizona immigration law case Monday may be that it could help lawmakers save some time during the Nevada Legislature’s 2013 session.

A few of the more rightward-leaning lawmakers were enamored by Arizona’s boldness in 2010, when that state passed the now-infamous and mostly moot SB 1070. Now we know, thanks to the court’s majority, that the bulk of such laws are pre-empted by federal immigration law.

The one provision the court declined to invalidate – which mandates that Arizona cops check the immigration status of people whom they suspect of being in the country illegally – may show up in Carson City in 2013. Given the relative success of past immigration-cracking measures, however, it’s a long-shot for passage in the Silver State.

While Monday’s ruling may arrest some bad legislative ideas, it won’t change hearts or minds. U.S. Sen. Dean Heller’s office failed to answer email queries by deadline as to whether he still thinks, “We need a similar policy here in Nevada and I would support a similar policy.”

So it’s unclear, then, despite the well-articulated reasons provided by Justice Anthony Kennedy and the court majority, whether Heller still believes the Arizona laws are methods “to best address the issue of undocumented residents in the nation.” Furthermore, it’s impossible to say whether Heller still stands by his 2011 remark that, “Just so you know, if I was a legislator in Arizona, I would have supported that Arizona bill.”

Instead, all Heller said Monday was this: “States are frustrated with the federal government’s reluctance to enforce existing laws. Enforcing the laws, and improving the processing of immigration applications would go a long way toward fixing the current immigration system, and keeping states from acting on their own.”

Could Heller – and other Republicans who issued similar remarks – be unaware that the administration of President Barack Obama has been enforcing the laws? According to the Department of Homeland Security’s 2010 yearbook of statistics, the Obama administration has deported far more immigrants than any previous president. That record stands notwithstanding his announcement last week that he’d de-prioritize deportations of immigrants who were brought here as children and who have gone to school and stayed out of trouble.

Still, there’s some truth in Heller’s statement that shouldn’t go unnoticed: If, as the Supreme Court’s ruling says, immigration policy is the sole province of Congress, then Congress needs to act on reforms. That was the conclusion of Gov. Brian Sandoval, a former federal judge, as well. “This decision makes it clear that the president and Congress must come together and reform our immigration system,” the governor said.  

But the problem with that is, the two sides simply cannot agree on this hot-button issue. And the battle lines don’t necessarily break along political party, either. Former President George W. Bush had a workable immigration policy supported by moderate Republicans and business types, but it never got much of a hearing. A Democratic plan that includes penalties, delays but ultimately a pathway to citizenship has always run into Capitol Hill roadblocks. Ditto the DREAM Act, which would have allowed immigrants brought to the country when young to eventually attain citizenship by attending college or serving in the military.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday that Obama’s action last week was necessary “precisely because Republicans have so far refused to work with Democrats on forging common-sense solutions to our immigration challenge that are fair, tough and practical.”  

At the end of the majority’s ruling, Kennedy wrote, “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.”

Would that it could be so ordered by a court. As things stand, however, it looks more like a prayer, a hope or a fond wish.


Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 387-5276 or

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