Rep. Stephen Sandstrom knew from the get-go that his Utah immigration enforcement law was pushing the legal envelope. Now, to no one's surprise, the envelope, in the form of the American Civil Liberties Union, is pushing back, and rightly so.
The state's new law that obliges local police officers to verify the immigration status of people who are stopped for serious crimes, and some not so serious, appears to be unconstitutional on its face. That's because it sets up a state scheme to enforce federal immigration law. Immigration law is, however, a federal prerogative under the Constitution, not a state one.
But the constitutional niceties of federalism are not the worst that can be said of HB497. Though the authors of the law tried to make it appear as though everyone would be treated equally under its provisions, it is obvious that people of color or those who speak English with an accent surely will be treated differently and with more suspicion when they are stopped by a police officer and can't readily produce a standard ID. Racial profiling will certainly creep into the business of everyday law enforcement under this law.
In fact, Sandstrom and other proponents of the law have made no secret that they hope to scare illegal immigrants away from Utah, and this is their weapon of choice.
But the Constitution and the American values that are the foundation of this nation of immigrants prohibit racial profiling just a surely as they tell the state of Utah that it can't enact its own immigration system.
It will be up to a federal court to sort out the procedural questions posed by the new law and how they relate to the various amendments in the Bill of Rights. But as we read the law and the ACLU's complaint against it, we expect that the plaintiffs will prevail.
Even that won't get to the most damaging effect of this law, which would drive illegal immigrants deeper into hiding and make them fools to cooperate with local police investigations of serious crimes that dwarf civil violations of federal immigration laws. We speak, of course, of the trade in illegal drugs, weapons and human beings, to say nothing of homicides and assaults that come with organized crime.
Somehow, in attempting to defend the rule of law and the nation's borders, the proponents of this law have lost sight of the larger issues of human rights and indeed the ability of the community to defend itself against professional criminals, not just people who come to the United States illegally in search of a job and support for their families.
That is an offense against reason itself.