Yes, we can enforce

By Rich Lowry
After it passed a robust immigration-enforcement measure last year, Arizona was practically expelled from the union.

The great and good denounced the state for its Gestapo tactics. The Obama administration sued it. The professionally outraged announced boycotts. Arizona stood condemned before the world, a byword for hatred and defiance of federal law.

And yet the Supreme Court recently implicitly ratified Arizona’s leadership role on immigration enforcement. It’s everyone else who is out of line, not Arizona.

The Supreme Court upheld the state’s requirement that businesses use the federal E-Verify system — a database accessible through the Internet — to confirm the legal status of employees. This is different from last year’s law saying that police should, when practicable, check the immigration status of suspected illegal immigrants, but the echoes are clear enough. The same critics (the business community and civil-rights groups) used the same tactics (loud condemnations and lawsuits) over the same essential issue (whether the state had gone beyond federal law).

Congress has been adept through the years at passing laws and programs notionally targeting illegal immigration, but with no intention of acting on them. It’s enforcement by pretense. Arizona’s offense is to take the federal law at face value and act on it. So if Congress creates a widely ignored voluntary system to verify the status of employees, Arizona will actually use it as a tool of enforcement.

According to an Institute for the Study of Labor report, Arizona accounts for one-third of all employers nationwide enrolled in E-Verify. Roughly 700,000 of Arizona’s new hires between October 2008 and September 2009 were checked with E-Verify, about half of all the state’s new hires.

This increased attention to the legal status of employees has had the effect any reasonable person would expect — it has made it harder for illegal immigrants to get jobs and therefore made Arizona less hospitable terrain. The Institute for the Study of Labor finds a statistically significant reduction in the state’s population of Hispanic noncitizens, a category overlapping heavily with illegal immigrants. The result holds even accounting for the recession. The study looked at Arizona’s population of Hispanic naturalized citizens — who are obviously not targeted by the law — and found no such decline.

The Supreme Court decision will encourage other states to follow Arizona’s lead. Already, South Carolina, Utah and Mississippi have passed similar laws. As more and more states make E-Verify mandatory, it will make more sense for Congress to require the system nationwide.

There are shopworn objections to any kind of immigration enforcement. We are told that the simple expedient of building a fence on our southern border is a gross un-American symbol of exclusion. Is it also un-American to ask that employers do a few clicks of due diligence to ensure that they are abiding by the nation’s laws? We are told we impossible, too, to make it a little harder to come here and find a job?

Slowly, we are beginning to move from a culture of permissiveness to a culture of enforcement on illegal immigration. For that, we can all say, “Thank you, Arizona.”

(Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.)
© 2011 by King Features Synd., Inc.