FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Utah’s New Immigration Law

by STEWART J. LAWRENCE

Utah’s deepening internal debate over how best to handle its large  illegal alien population is raising interesting new questions about  the proper dividing line between federal and state authority over  immigration matters.  It’s also threatening to cause major political  headaches for the Obama administration.

The Justice Department, in its recent lawsuit against Arizona,  claimed that the Constitution gives the federal government nearly  exclusive authority to make the nation’s immigration laws.  Accordingly, states have no right to pass their own  enforcement laws that are more stringent than federal policy,  especially if such laws might infringe on the rights of other citizens, or the rights of the aliens themselves.

But what if a state wants to pursue an enforcement approach that is  far less strict than current federal policy?    And what if, in  addition, it wants to devise its own visa policy to allow illegal  aliens to be conditionally legalized as “guest workers”, so that they  can openly labor and pay taxes to the state?   Doesn’t this law also  contravene federal authority, and isn’t it also unconstitutional?

Amazingly, that’s just what Utah is now proposing, after its  Republican governor intervened to prevent the state legislature from  passing its own version of an Arizona crackdown law.  Momentum behind a  copycat law in Utah was slowed after a federal district court judge  ruled that the heart of Arizona’s law, SB 1070, was likely  “pre-empted” by federal law, and issued a temporary injunction  blocking SB 1070’s full implementation.

But rather than dropping the matter, the state’s governor decided to  convene a roundtable of key stakeholders to come up with a better  approach.  Out of these discussions came the proposal for a state  guest worker program that would effectively bypass, or at least run  parallel to, current federal visa policy.

The basic idea is that Mexican and Utah state officials would sit down  to discuss their respective labor situations, and out of these  discussions a system for regulating the importation of Mexicans into  Utah would be established and administered more or less jointly by the  two sides.

There’s only one problem:  there’s no way to square this system with  current federal law.  In fact, it’s far more of a threat to the  principle of federal authority than Arizona’s law, which does not  directly impact decisions regarding who is granted legal entry into  the US.   It’s almost as if Utah is establishing its own foreign  policy with Mexico – at least in the realm of immigration.

Naturally, the Utah business community loves the idea, because it  provides guaranteed access to cheap labor.  And many immigrant rights  supporters think it gives Mexicans a leg up.  Anyone with a visa won’t  be deported, and may eventually get a shot at permanent residency,  though the approach currently being discussed doesn’t explicitly  provide for that possibility.

The federal government currently administers two small-scale guest  worker programs, one exclusively for agricultural workers, known as  H-2A, the other for other unskilled occupations like landscaping,  shrimping, and tourism, known as H-2B.   About 100,000 workers are  “imported” annually to work in these occupations, but they are required to  leave the country after their temporary work contracts expire.

In theory, the Utah program would be broadly compatible with H-2A and  H-2B,  except that state officials would be intimately involved in  determining who qualifies for a visa, and under what conditions they  could work.  That completely flies in the face of the elaborate  federal institutional procedures for managing H-2A and H-2B, in which  state officials play an ancillary role at best.

What’s fascinating, of course, is that Utah is making the same defense  of its program that Arizona is:  because of the void in federal  policy-making left by the failure of the US Congress to reform the  nation’s immigration laws, Utah has to act to protect its own citizens  from the consequences of that failure.

Only now the argument comes more from the more liberal or “pro-immigration”  side of the debate.

Not surprisingly, the Obama administration has said nothing about how  it plans to approach the Utah law.   But attorney general Eric Holder  has recently spoken out on the subject of “sanctuary” cities –  localities like San Francisco that have refused to cooperate with  federal immigration authorities in the identification and  apprehension of illegal aliens.

When challenged by conservatives to explain why the administration is  going after Arizona, but not San Francisco, Holder said there was a  “big difference” between localities that were “going beyond” federal  law and those that were only “passively resisting” it.   But that  argument won’t hold up in the case of Utah, whose challenge to federal  authority goes far beyond the realm of law enforcement alone.

In fact, Utah may still decide to pass a less aggressive Arizona-style  enforcement law as a complement to its new guest worker scheme.  And  last spring the governor also asked the legislature to mandate that  the state’s employers utilize the federal workplace enforcement system  known as E-Verify, to prevent illegal workers form getting hired.  Eleven other  states, including Arizona, are doing the same, even though the program, at the  federal level, is still largely voluntary

If all of these measures pass, Utah would become the first state in  the nation to offer its own model for “comprehensive” immigration  reform – a guest worker program, plus stepped up police and workplace  enforcement –  probably the broadest challenge to federal immigration  authority in the nation’s history.

But one item is missing:  a sweeping legalization program that would  ensure that all aliens currently in the country – or at least  Utah – would get green  cards.

Could this be the future GOP model for immigration reform, once  Republicans re-gain control over Congress in November, which now  seems likely?   Stay tuned, the US immigration debate is about to  get a lot more interesting.

STEWART J. LAWRENCE is a Washington, DC-based an immigration policy specialist.  He can be reached at stewartlawrence81147@gmail.com

Stewart J. Lawrence can be reached at stewartlawrence81147@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
Thomas Knapp
Florida’s Shenanigans Make a Great Case for (Re-)Separation of Ballot and State
Jordan Flaherty
Best Films of 2016: Black Excellence Versus White Mediocrity
Weekend Edition
February 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Rogue Elephant Rising: The CIA as Kingslayer
Matthew Stevenson
Is Trump the Worst President Ever?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Flynn?
John Wight
Brexit and Trump: Why Right is Not the New Left
Diana Johnstone
France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface
Neve Gordon
Trump’s One-State Option
Roger Harris
Emperor Trump Has No Clothes: Time to Organize!
Joan Roelofs
What Else is Wrong with Globalization
Andrew Levine
Why Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban?
Mike Whitney
Blood in the Water: the Trump Revolution Ends in a Whimper
Vijay Prashad
Trump, Turmoil and Resistance
Ron Jacobs
U.S. Imperial War Personified
David Swanson
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
Andre Vltchek
Governor of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
Norman Pollack
Self-Devouring Reaction: Governmental Impasse
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Destruction of Mosul
Steve Horn
What Do a Louisiana Pipeline Explosion and Dakota Access Pipeline Have in Common? Phillips 66
Brian Saady
Why Corporations are Too Big to Jail in the Drug War
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Peaceful Protest to Armed Uprising
Luke Meyer
The Case of Tony: Inside a Lifer Hearing
Binoy Kampmark
Adolf, The Donald and History
Robert Koehler
The Great American Awakening
Murray Dobbin
Canadians at Odds With Their Government on Israel
Fariborz Saremi
A Whole New World?
Joyce Nelson
Japan’s Abe, Trump & Illegal Leaks
Christopher Brauchli
Trump 1, Tillerson 0
Yves Engler
Is This Hate Speech?
Dan Bacher
Trump Administration Exempts Three CA Oil Fields From Water Protection Rule at Jerry Brown’s Request
Richard Klin
Solid Gold
Melissa Garriga
Anti-Abortion and Anti-Fascist Movements: More in Common Than Meets the Eye
Thomas Knapp
The Absurd Consequences of a “Right to Privacy”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail