The U.S. Constitution grants the federal government supreme authority to regulate naturalization, immigration and foreign policy. So it should surprise no one, least of all Utah legislators, that the federal government has filed suit to invalidate this state's new immigration enforcement law. Many critics argued from the inception of the Utah law that it was unconstitutional. The federal courts are likely to agree.
The basic reason for that is plain. The nation cannot have a patchwork system of different immigration laws and policies in the 50 states. That would lead to haphazard enforcement and undermine U.S. foreign policy. Other nations are not likely to take kindly to having the treatment of their citizens in the United States left to the random whim of politicians in Salt Lake City or Phoenix or Montgomery.
Despite that, Utah lawmakers plunged ahead, the bit of the immigration controversy clenched firmly in their teeth. This is unlikely to change policy the Utah law probably is invalid but it makes a lot of expensive work for lawyers.
In fairness, however, the immigration circus in Utah, Arizona, Alabama and other states might finally pressure the Congress and the president to do their jobs and reform the nation's troubled immigration system. But that's the point. The changes have to come from Congress.
State officials are expressing shock that the federal government filed suit. They profess to believe that they had somehow immunized the Utah law against such a legal attack. But reading the federal government's complaint makes clear why federal authorities had to act. To do otherwise would not only allow Utah to undermine federal policy, law and enforcement, but would have encouraged other states to do likewise.
Part of that complaint rests on Utah's setting up its own immigration enforcement scheme in violation of the constitutional supremacy of the federal government. Among the details, there is the matter of a provision of HB497 that obliges state and local police officers to subject people to warrantless arrests whom they suspect of being aliens subject to federal removal orders or who have been charged or convicted in another state of aggravated felonies. But the state cannot and should not impose its own enforcement scheme that ignores federal directives, which often rely on subtle case-by-case policy decisions and complex interpretations of federal law. Sometimes, federal authorities deliberately release people who are subject to removal orders for good reason.
Utah lawmakers charged into a quagmire. Now they are surprised to be stuck.