Opinion: Immigration: Should feds sue Utah over new immigration rules?

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U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith this week asked the Department of Justice to sue Utah over a new law that allows illegal immigrants to work in the state. The rule also grants police more powers to check the immigration status of those arrested.

Smith, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said in a letter to the Justice Department that it should go to court because Utah’s law is unconstitutional. Failure to sue, he said, would raise questions about the federal government’s willingness to enforce the law equally. He noted the Justice Department challenged Arizona’s controversial immigration law that permitted police to question individuals about their immigration status under some circumstances.


Smith’s demand has sparked a war of words, but not with the Obama administration. Instead, it’s a fellow Republican who is fighting back. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Smith and Congress were forcing states to adopt a patchwork of rules by not acting.

‘Typical Washington-attempt to deflect criticism that comes from Washington’s abject failure to address immigration, then sue a state over something that won’t even take effect for two years, rather than use those two years to do something positive,’ Herbert said in a statement. ‘A lawsuit is completely premature. The people of the U.S. would be better served if the federal government used the time between now and 2013 to actually address immigration, rather than sue Utah for trying to manage the practical realities we face as states due to the absence of federal action.’

Immigration is a thorny issue for those Republican lawmakers who represent districts or states with large farms or agricultural businesses that rely heavily on immigrant workers. Nearly half of all seasonal farmworkers are in the United States illegally.

I can’t imagine that Smith’s position is popular with agribusiness. Despite the high unemployment numbers, growers continue to complain they can’t find legal workers to help harvest crops. It’s unlikely that an enforcement-only approach will increase the pool of legal farmworkers.


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--Sandra Hernandez