About a month ago, Utah’s governor signed off on a set of bills that include provisions similar to Arizona’s SB-1070 immigration law, in addition to language that would allow undocumented immigrants to live and work in the state of Utah and create a migrant worker partnership with Mexico. I recently reported that House Judiciary Chairman and immigration hardliner Lamar Smith (R-TX) was chiding the Department of Justice (DOJ) for going after Arizona’s immigration law but not pursuing a similar case against Utah.
Today, Smith got the chance to ask DOJ Secretary Eric Holder himself what his department is planning along those lines. Both Smith and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) appeared to be pretty irate about the supposed hypocrisy. Yet, after hearing Holder’s response, Smith ultimately was forced to concede “fair enough”:
SMITH: It seems to me that the Department should probably be consistent in its application of the law. […] This does give the appearance of a pattern of selectively enforcing the law and I wanted to seek your comment as to whether that experience is accurate or not. […]
HOLDER: That’s a law that doesn’t go into effect until 2013. It has always been the Department of Justice’s policy to try to work with states to see if there’s a way in which we can reach an agreement without us having to file suit. So we will look at the law and if it’s not changed to our satisfaction by 2013, we will take all the necessary steps.
SMITH: What were you referring to when you said “trying to work something out with Utah?” […] That seems to be a clear violation of current immigration law.
HOLDER: Well it might be. The law as it exists in 2011 — that could be a violation that we would sue. By 2013 we might be in a different place.
SMITH: If they change the law, it would take something like that? Okay, fair enough.
The major difference between Arizona’s law — SB-1070 — and the set of laws passed by Utah is that SB-1070 was set to go into effect just a couple of months after it passed while Utah’s new immigration laws won’t be enforced for another two years. My guess is that Arizona also didn’t display any interest in “trying to work something out” with the federal government before the lawsuit against the state was filed.
Meanwhile, a lot could happen between now and 2013. The Supreme Court could strike down Arizona’s law, which would have serious implications for Utah’s approach. A new administration could decide to drop the case altogether. Or Congress could actually take it upon themselves to fix the nation’s broken immigration system. In fact, Smith’s fellow Republicans — Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and Gov. Gary Herbert have suggested the Judiciary chairman do just that. One thing is for sure though — the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. aren’t going anywhere.