Monday, April 23, 2012
Michael Sean Winters blogs, here, about the upcoming Supreme Court arguments in the Arizona-immigration-law case. I probably agree with Winters that, as a policy matter, laws like Arizona's (and Alabama's, which was criticized in the Bishops' recent religious-freedom statement -- you know, the one that is so "partisan"?) are bad policy (though the current regime and its enforcement are a disgrace). Immigration reform is a tough issue, and the left demagogues it with no less vigor than does the right (no, it's not "racist" or "nativist" to worry about the costs of unlawful immigration or to support voter ID laws; no, it's not un-American to note that immigration has many benefits and that our current system makes lawful immigration, in most cases, too difficult). It is not the "Catholic" view that a political community is not entitled to police its boundaries, nor is it the "Catholic" view that a wealthy community can exploit the cheap labor and sales-tax revenues provided by unlawful immigrants while simultaneously demonizing and arbitrarily deporting and / or incarcerating them. For more, see this First Things piece, "Principled Immigration," by Mary Ann Glendon, or this essay by our own Michael Scaperlanda.
Winters is right that immigration is, as a constitutional matter, a "federal issue." However, the question whether a law like Arizona's is inconsistent with immigration's being a federal issue is trickier than Winters's post suggests. It is not the case that all state laws whose operation and enforcement affects unlawful immigrants, or shapes their decision-making, unconstitutionally interfere with the national government's prerogatives in this area. It depends, and the answer to the question whether or not it does is not supplied by Catholic teaching.
In my view, "conservative Catholic commentators" who care (as we all should) about "the importance of human dignity" and religious freedom are not required, on pain of being charged with inconsistency (or worse), to think that the Arizona law and others like it crosses the constitutional line (I have not studied the matter closely enough to have a firm view), even if do they think, as I think I do, that what is urgently needed is not piecemeal, and largely symbolic, state legislation, but meaningful enforcement, fair sharing of the burdens and benefits associated with unlawful immigration, and comprehensive reform.
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