Over the next several months the Supreme Court will hear arguments over Arizona's state-passed immigration law. Regardless of the outcome one thing should be very clear: the anti-immigrant movement has no long-term strategy to fix our broken immigration system. All these laws have done is create an environment which has stagnated conversation about repairing the systemic problems inherent in our non-functioning immigration system. The bottom line: state-passed laws by design cannot and will not ever reform an immigration system which needs a uniform overhaul from Congress.
Any law which seeks to fix the problems associated with undocumented immigration in our country must deal with three issues on a national scale: 1) how best to enforce our immigration laws; 2) how to deal with those undocumented immigrants currently here; and 3) create a process for moving future flows of legal immigration into and out of the country.
The Obama Administration has already made significant movement on the enforcement part of this strategy. Deportations are at a record high level and undocumented immigration into the country is at a net zero. Most importantly, between 2009 and 2010 for the first time in decades the undocumented population actually dropped, and has remained stagnant to date. In fact in a huge reversal, more Mexican undocumented migrants are leaving the country then are entering it. Despite the strides made, there are those who see state-passed immigration laws as a legitimate fix for our broken immigration system. Playing the devil's advocate, let us envision a scenario in which the Supreme Court upholds SB1070.
Using simple arithmetic, 36 of 51 states have attempted to pass anti-immigration laws similar to Arizona SB1070. However, only six of the thirty six proposals or around16% have actually passed. This suggests that even if the Supreme Court sets a precedent by finding these laws constitutional, it is highly unlikely that anything close to a majority of the states would pass their own immigration laws. Under this scenario removing immigrants currently in this country without documentation would be all but impossible.
A patchwork of state-passed immigration laws will not remove immigrants from the country. The evidence suggests it merely causes them to move from one state to another. Carrying this proposed scenario out further, if states were given constitutional authority to generate mass deportations or to implement a system which compels self-deportation, they would still be reliant on federal enforcement resources and financial support.
From a basic process standpoint states do not have the legal means or resources to deport immigrants. Deportations are a controlled process with specific and expensive steps which must be adhered to. States who attempt to deport on their own would find themselves in a morass of legal red tape coupled with staggering costs. It can cost anywhere from $12,500 to $23,480 to deport one immigrant. Estimates show that deporting the population of undocumented immigrants already in this country could cost as much as $285 billion.
A patchwork of state-passed immigration laws does nothing to fix the utterly broken process of legal immigration into the country. The majority of undocumented immigrants in the country are Visa overstays who came into the country legally. The number of immigrants who apply to come in legally far outnumbers the allocations for visas currently given. Even if possible, deporting all of the undocumented immigrants in the country would accomplish nothing, if the process of legally moving people into and out of the country is not fixed. On their own states simply cannot do this. Any scenario which finds state-passed immigration laws constitutional will only bring the country right back to where we are now, dealing with an immigration system that doesn't work.
The rise of the state-passed immigration movement has been an ideological dead end for the country and a stagnation of real conversation around reforming our current system. The Supreme Court case matters, not just because of the precedent it will set, but because upholding these laws would only give Congressional Republicans the ability to continue to shirk their duty to come to the table and fix our immigration system. Regardless of whether or not the Supreme Court strikes down some or all of SB1070, the inescapable fact remains, states individually will never be able to fix the larger problems associated with our immigration system. Most assuredly, with time the Court's decision will only reinforce a simple fact: the only entity that can fix the mess we are in is Congress.