Immigration Law

Roberto Suro: Let States Participate in Immigration Reform

Roberto Suro, Sept. 16, 2015 - "The decrepitude of the federal immigration system makes it necessary for states to go their own way. Across the West, crops rotted for the second summer in a row this year because of a weekslong shutdown of visa processing for seasonal farm workers caused by State Department computer problems. California’s Assembly passed a bill that would make an end run around federal law by granting work permits for unauthorized migrant farmworkers (the bill is now before the State Senate).

Cross that threshold, and state-issued labor certification could be extended to other categories of immigrants. In effect, welcoming states could take immigration in the direction of medical marijuana, and license and regulate behaviors that are shown to work, in this case, even though they’re in violation of federal law.

States with restrictive policies have been held back by the Supreme Court’s 2012 Arizona v. United States decision that struck down most of a law creating state offenses and state punishments for immigration violations. A president who supported a hard line on immigration could encourage states to again explore what’s permissible, with policies designed to create environments so hostile that the unauthorized move away.

The divergence could grow so great that immigrants would choose to settle in welcoming places and avoid the unfriendly places. Even if it does not go that far, a period of vigorous experimentation by state and local governments would be more productive than the polemics and stalemate that characterize the federal debate."

Roberto Suro is a professor of public policy and journalism at the University of Southern California.