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McEntee: Congress to blame for stalled immigration reform

By peg mcentee

| Tribune Columnist

First Published Jun 25 2012 04:14 pm • Last Updated Jun 26 2012 12:01 am

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Arizona law enforcement can question a person’s immigration status during an arrest, or even just a stop, it’s again time to take a look at Utah’s most recent immigration law.

The justices ruled that Arizona’s SB1070 does not violate the U.S. Constitution by requiring police to check a person’s status. However, they did rule that three other provisions did intrude into the federal government’s authority over immigration law.

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It’s the first in a process of going state by state — Alabama, Georgia and Utah among them — to assess and rule on those laws. It’s also the appropriate pursuit for the checks and balances the American form of government requires, even though Congress is doing pitifully little about true immigration reform.

Utah’s law, HB497, requires an officer to check a person’s status if he faces a class A misdemeanor or felony charge. For lesser misdemeanors, local police have the discretion to check. But a cop can’t just pull over a driver who looks suspiciously like a noncitizen based on the color of her skin.

Moreover, it’s not a crime to be in this country without papers. It’s a civil matter. A state can notify the feds if the person doesn’t have them, but it’s up to the feds to do something about it.

Of course, the Utah law remains in federal court. U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups put his ruling on hold until the high court ruled on Arizona. Presumably, he’ll review the Supreme Court’s decision and have lawyers on both sides weigh in on it.

The fundamental question, though, is whether states can and should take control of laws enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which holds that the Constitution and U.S. laws "shall be the supreme Law of the Land."

Trouble is, Utah lawmakers and residents, and those in other states, have lost all patience with Congress, where immigration law should be revised and reformed.

We all know there are millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and about 100,000 in Utah. Some are criminals, most are not, just hard-working people who can’t find a decent life in their own countries.

But this is an election year, and as Salt Lake City attorney Mark Alvarez said Monday, "The legal language is going to be very different from what we’re going to be hearing from politicians in the next few days."

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Yapping politicians aside, it’s up to the rest of us to decide how long we’re willing to let the issue fester.

Whatever our position, we have to make our representatives know that inaction and stalemate are no longer acceptable.

The Rev. Steve Klemz, pastor of Salt Lake’s Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, said Monday that the only way to build a healthy community is to urge Congress to adopt a comprehensive immigration system.

Immigration policies "express who we are as a nation and our character as a people," he said. "We need to, in good faith, call for common sense and comprehensive immigration policy so that decency and common good may prevail and so that all have the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Immigrants founded this nation and have enriched it for centuries. Unfortunately, we can’t trust Congress to do anything about the immigration problem in the foreseeable future.

That, not the people who come to work hard, educate their children and assimilate, is the real problem of our time.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com, facebook.com/pegmentee and Twitter, @ PegMcEntee.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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