Let's cut through the political and legal gamesmanship on immigration: What is wrong with Utah and the federal authorities cooperating on immigration?
The U.S. Department of Justice doesn't think the Beehive State is playing the game right and filed suit Tuesday, saying the state legislature went too far when it passed a tough immigration law last session. The federal government is supreme, it says.
"A patchwork of immigration laws is not the answer and will only create further problems in our immigration system," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. "While we appreciate cooperation from states, which remains important, it is clearly unconstitutional for a state to set its own immigration policy."
But his lawsuit actually sabotages cooperation.
The feds are targeting three sections of the Utah law, HB-497. The provisions:
• Require police to verify the legal status of a person arrested for Class A misdemeanors or felonies.
• Enable the warrantless arrest of people suspected of being in the country illegally.
• Make harboring or transporting illegal aliens a crime.
These rules do not attempt to change who may legally cross the border or become a citizen; they merely give Utah law officers more power to assist in enforcing federal law on immigration.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff believes the state law will stand court scrutiny, and we hope he's right.
Just for fun, turn the question around. Have you heard of the Justice Department suing a state or local government for not trying hard enough to enforce federal immigration law? There are reportedly about 30 cities in the nation that forbid the use of municipal resources for this purpose. The Justice Department isn't suing them, last we heard.
No, Mr. Holder and the feds are playing with a double-standard: states should "cooperate" so long as they do nothing about the problem. States should act like Congress and look the other way for another half-century.
But Utah and other states cannot afford to do nothing. The states arguably have a greater stake in this issue than the federal government has because illegal immigrants live in states and sometimes draw on state resources.
This brings us to the real problem: Utah's new immigration laws, and laws in other states, would never have been passed if anybody believed that Washington was genuinely trying to enforce federal law. But the truth is that the federal government has been utterly negligent.
The feds can solve the legal conflict -- not by suing Utah but by getting off their duffs and doing something meaningful themselves. They should start by recognizing that federal cooperation with states is a reasonable thing. It's not a one-way street. A small step would see Washington granting waivers of federal supremacy so that Utah can implement its new law.
The bureaucrats need to get off the "federal government only" kick that has prevented forward movement for decades.
By all means, there should be national policies on immigration. But states should have enough leeway to deal with illegal immigrants within their borders. If left alone, Utah will succeed where Uncle Sam has miserably failed.