Social scientists looking to make sense of the immigration consternation 100 years from now may learn more from the dissent to Monday’s ruling by Justice Antonin Scalia. His 22-page argument in favor of Arizona’s law subjects this serious issue to a fire-and-brimstone sermon, full of hyperbole, half-truths and exaggerations. In other words, he sounded like the fear-mongering state legislators in Arizona, Alabama and elsewhere who ushered in laws aimed at harassing illegal immigrants in recent years.
Scalia’s dissent claimed:
• The Obama administration “desperately wants to avoid upsetting foreign powers.”
• “[T]o say, as the Court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of the Immigration Act that the President declines to enforce boggles the mind.”
• “If securing its territory in this fashion is not within the power of Arizona, we should cease referring to it as a sovereign State.”
• Arizona’s “citizens feel themselves under siege by large numbers of illegal immigrants who invade their property, strain their social services, and even place their lives in jeopardy.”
• “Are the sovereign States at the mercy of the Federal Executive’s refusal to enforce the Nation’s immigration laws?”
Red meat for right-wingers, right?
Scalia, who also argued that Arizona would have declined to become a state in 1912 had it foreseen Monday’s ruling, illustrates much of what’s at the heart of states attempting to enlist their own border patrols. A serious problem of an estimated 11 million souls in the nation illegally is reduced to a nativist rant that raises the blood pressure but whiffs at serious solutions. State-sanctioned bigotry isn’t a solution.
The nation would be better off with a rational policy, one that should come from the federal government. The policy must wrestle with several issues: a 2,000-mile border is difficult to patrol; some illegal immigrants would be model citizens if they had a policy pointing them toward a path to citizenship; the U.S. economy is dependant in many ways on cheap labor from illegal immigrants; and mass deportations have the power to be costly and ultimately ineffective.
The responsibility for these reforms falls to the president and the Congress. Two presidents — George W. Bush and Barack Obama — tried and failed to fix the problem via legislation. Standing in the way during both administrations were conservative Republicans who speak much the way Scalia did in his dissent of the court’s Arizona ruling — lots of heat but very little light.
These Republicans are the key to good immigration policy. It’s time for them to put down the political football and start legislating.