Skip to main content

Indiana gets real on immigration

By Ali Noorani, Special to CNN
updated 11:20 PM EDT, Fri August 3, 2012
Migrant workers harvest watermelon last month near Vincennes, Indiana.
Migrant workers harvest watermelon last month near Vincennes, Indiana.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Indiana's attorney general has declared most of the state's new immigration law indefensible
  • He cited the June Supreme Court ruling on Arizona in his announcement, says Ali Noorani
  • Indiana is not alone in thinking there is a better way to enforce immigration law, Noorani says
  • Noorani: It's time for the federal government to create a rational immigration process

Editor's note: Ali Noorani is the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an organization based in Washington that advocates for the value of immigrants. Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- "It is so ordered."

Four words, used by the Supreme Court of the United States, that set loose a cascade of public policy. Few phrases are as powerful and precise.

On June 25, when Justice Anthony Kennedy closed the court's majority opinion regarding Arizona's anti-immigrant law, S.B. 1070, with these words, the court lifted a burden off the shoulders of local law enforcement as well as millions of immigrants across the country.

Last Tuesday, the ripples reached Indiana: The state's Republican attorney general, Greg Zoeller, said portions of his state's Senate Bill 590 could not be defended. "The Supreme Court made clear that immigration enforcement is a federal government responsibility," Zoeller acknowledged.

Ali Noorani
Ali Noorani

Elements of Indiana's law resemble those the Supreme Court struck down in Arizona's, including provisions giving local police unprecedented power to make warrantless arrests based on assumed immigration status.

Zoeller saw the constitutional writing on the wall and freed his enforcement resources from an expensive court battle the state of Indiana was sure to lose. The court's ruling on S.B. 1070 made it clear that state laws authorizing local law enforcement to make warrantless arrests of people for immigration violations are unconstitutional.

Opinion: Don't deport the 'tamale lady'

Mixed messages on immigration?
Obama: U.S. needs immigration reform
Lawmaker to Bieber: Remember your papers

The court struck down three parts of the law, including the murky section that authorized state officers to arrest people based on "probable cause" that they had committed an offense that could lead to deportation. The court allowed a fourth section, the troubling "papers please" provision, to go into effect, but it left the door wide open for further legal scrutiny.

Lest you think otherwise, Zoeller is no shrinking violet when it comes to immigration enforcement and keeping our nation safe. He is an active member of the Alliance Partnership of the Conference of Western Attorneys General, in which attorneys general across the United States partner with their colleagues in Mexico to strengthen the legal systems of both countries and reduce crime.

As Zoeller wrote in 2011, "Greater cooperation, trust and information sharing between law enforcers and judicial officers on both sides of the border creates a more peaceful backdrop against which the U.S. government can work to improve an immigration system that clearly needs fixing."

Working collaboratively across state lines and international borders to fight human and drug trafficking, money laundering and consumer fraud is a far better use of law enforcement resources than arresting landscapers and nannies.

Zoeller is not alone in thinking there is a better way to enforce immigration law. Last year, he joined a bipartisan group of business, law enforcement and religious leaders in signing the Indiana Compact, a set of principles to guide the state's immigration debate. The compact affirms that immigration enforcement should be handled at the federal level, not the state level.

The signers of the Indiana Compact joined like-minded leaders in Utah and Iowa — neither of which is a liberal stronghold — who signed compacts of their own calling upon the administration and Congress to work together to create a common-sense immigration process.

But Congress has failed to muster the will to craft legislation, and President Obama is reduced to making administrative changes to an antiquated system. Sadly, the Supreme Court's ruling on S.B. 1070 is all we have to work with when it comes to federal guidance on immigration.

Opinion: Why 'illegal immigrant' is a slur

But the winds of the immigration debate are changing. From the Mountain West to the Southeast to the Midwest, people who wear badges, run businesses and carry Bibles are building a new consensus on immigrants and America.

The consensus is that immigration policy is a human issue. Documented or undocumented, people have freedom that we protect. That is one of the ideals on which our nation is built.

Leaders such as Zoeller are doing what they are constitutionally required to do: Enforce the law. Zoeller must and will protect the residents of Indiana, regardless of their federal immigration status.

To do so, he will direct all his resources toward tracking down those who would perpetrate crime on these residents and bring them to justice rather than dedicate scarce resources toward enforcing federal immigration law.

The Supreme Court has ordered that the federal government pre-empts states when it comes to immigration law. It is time the other branches of our federal government heeded that order and created a rational immigration process that allows law enforcement officials to do their job: keep us safe.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ali Noorani.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT