Arizona Immigration Ruling Means More State Fights

In the absence of a uniform federal policy, fights over state laws will linger for years.

Today’s Supreme Court ruling that overturns most provisions of an Arizona crackdown on illegal immigrants is just the first shot in what will be a long legal and political battle.

SEE ALSO: Obama's Immigration Move Puts Romney In a Bind

The high court struck down provisions of the Arizona law that allow police to make an arrest without a warrant if there is probable cause to believe someone is in the U.S. illegally, that make it a crime for someone here illegally to apply for a job in Arizona, and that require immigrants to register with the federal government and carry ID cards noting their residency status.

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The court upheld a provision allowing police to check the immigration status of anyone stopped for another violation, such as speeding.

The next court tests will likely come from Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah. They passed laws similar to Arizona’s that have been on hold pending today’s decision.

So far this year, 27 states have passed new immigration laws, many of them in some way going after those in the country illegally. And hundreds of other bills are in the works in state legislatures, covering everything from work rules to eligibility for driver’s licenses to access to education for the children of illegal immigrants.

For instance, 35 states are working on legislation that would crack down on the employment of undocumented workers. Some states would allow employers to be fined or lose business licenses for hiring illegal immigrants. Others want to require employers to use the E-Verify system, a federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security that was designed to be voluntary for everyone except federal contractors and their subcontractors.

The Supreme Court has already upheld a state’s right to compel use of E-Verify, clearing the way for Colorado, Wisconsin and Kentucky to consider adding such a requirement later this year. Others will follow. Connecticut, meanwhile, is considering legislation that would allow cities and towns to decide whether to require use of the program.

In addition, legislatures in 25 states are debating bills that would tighten residency requirements for in-state college tuition, with an eye toward proving legal status. And 29 states are considering state-issued identification cards, which would help officials distinguish who is in the country legally.

Many of these laws will pass and will be challenged in state and federal courts. Many members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have called for a federal immigration policy that would override the crazy quilt of state statutes, but there are vast partisan differences in what the approach should include.

President Obama touched on the need for reform in a statement this afternoon about the high court’s ruling. “A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system,” he said. “It’s part of the problem.”

But this being an election year, there is no chance of immigration reform any time soon. That can of worms will be left for the next Congress and the winner of the presidential election to work out in 2013 or 2014.

Richard Sammon
Senior Associate Editor, The Kiplinger Letter