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Editorial: Iowa follows Texas folly: Courts must stop state-level immigration enforcement

New York Daily News Editorial Board, New York Daily News on

Published in Op Eds

Last week, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds followed the lead of Texas counterpart and grandstander extraordinaire Greg Abbott in signing a bill that would make immigration violations a state-level crime.

This domino effect is the entirely predictable result of courts that have let this charade go on. In briefly allowing Texas’ measure to go into effect before it was frozen again, the U.S. Supreme Court signaled to every crackpot GOP legislature and governor around the country that they could score some easy points with the base by passing a bill to overrule the federal government on immigration regulation.

In addition to Iowa, the Louisiana Senate has passed its own version, each bill or law as plainly illegal as the last.

As with other such efforts, state pols know that they win even if they lose. When these laws get struck down — and if there is any semblance of respect for precedent or the division of state and federal powers left in the judiciary, they must be struck down — then the likes of Reynolds get to claim that their efforts have been thwarted by bleeding-heart judges.

Rarely are they thinking ahead to the real consequences beyond the benefits of this as a red meat electoral issue, so let’s remind them: Texas and Iowa both have, among other immigrant-heavy industries, large agricultural and food processing sectors. Without immigrant labor, these industries wouldn’t just suffer; they would collapse entirely, taking state economies down with them.

Even when the measures are narrower — Iowa’s law would apply only to people who have been previously deported or barred from entering the country — they will without a doubt have broad implications.

Immigrants of all stripes will understand themselves correctly to be inherently suspect in the eyes of state law enforcement, which won’t really have the ability to enforce these provisions in a non-discriminatory way (how can you tell who is breaking this law at a glance?)

 

Perhaps these state lawmakers think that these statutes won’t really be enforced much, but will instead act as a cudgel to keep immigrant laborers in line. They should look at Florida, where less draconian laws have already emptied out farm towns and perhaps permanently damaged the economy.

Not that an economic argument should even be necessary. These measures are intended to upend the balance of power between the federal government and the states, serving as a wedge to concentrate more power in conservative states.

If they can suddenly do their own immigration regulation, why not their own diplomacy? Why can’t they ignore federal safety standards and allow more pollution and dangerous workplaces? Why not raise fully separate armies? The courts need to put a stop to this now, before it goes any further.

In lieu of this state-level usurpation, Washington needs to get together and, at long last, pass some immigration reforms. Our current rules aren’t working for asylum seekers or the cities that receive them, they’re not working for businesses or workers, high-tech or agricultural, or really for anyone else.

We have a mid-20th-century immigration framework for a 21st-century world, a problem that just keeps growing as frustrations with this outdated format just make the political conversation around immigration ever-more heated and partisan. Fix it now, or it’ll only get worse.

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