With all of the news focusing on health care, you may not have seen their decision on immigration. And, even if you have, it’s kind of confusing.  Several states have very stringent immigration laws on the books.  Alabama is the harshest, with laws making it a crime for an undocumented immigrant to pay a utility bill, sign a contract, or buy a house. Arizona’s laws, though, are the ones on the front page.  The Supreme Court struck down many provisions of the Arizona law in their recent decision, but did allow Arizona to continue to instruct its police to check the immigration status of any person that they stop and have reason to believe is in the US illegally.  Other challenges to the law could be brought in the future.

The Court’s decision is based largely on state vs. federal rights. Federal laws always take precedent over state laws, but there isn’t much on the books, federally, about immigration.  Under former President Bush in 2007, there was a bipartisan effort to sort immigration policy out, but it died and was never really revived.  President Obama recently put into place a policy that allows people who are under age 30 with no criminal record and with a high school diploma, who arrived in the US before the age of 16 and who have been here for at least 5 years, to stay in the US for 2 years and work toward  becoming documented. Frankly, this makes a lot of sense. The problem will be when the next president comes into office, whether it’s next year or 4 years later.  The new policy is a presidential declaration, which means that another president could un-declare it.

Alabama, along with Utah, Indiana, South Carolina, and Georgia, is looking to the decision to see how their current immigration laws could be affected. Reading through articles about these harsh (and sometimes stupid) immigration laws, and watching news broadcasts with interviews from citizens of the aforementioned states makes it clear that the citizens have forgotten a few important things. First of all, everyone who founded the United States was an immigrant.  Then, immigrants kept coming to the US and built this country into what it is today. Immigrants should be celebrated and assimilated into the US, not shot with a rifle at the border by vigilante patrols. Yes, I agree that national security is a risk here.  However, civil and human rights should not be discarded, regardless of citizenship.

There has to be a way to address national security concerns without treating immigrants in a way that is inhuman, prejudiced, or will make us look back in shame in 50 years.  I also hear all the people saying “they’re taking our jobs and benefits and I don’t want my taxes to go to their education or healthcare.” Everyone wants tax money to be effectively spent, but there are a few other places more deserving of investigation than a person’s emergency medical needs. And, guess what? Undocumented immigrants tend to do hard jobs that no citizen would envy, like working in meat-packing plants or doing hard labor jobs that are dangerous and that they get paid way below minimum wage for.  So many industries rely on undocumented workers because of their too-low cost.  Doesn’t it make more sense to try to give people a path to documentation and citizenship if they will be productive members of our society?

Immigration policy will absolutely be an essential issue in the 2012 election.  The Hispanic voting population in the states is huge, and the immigrant population overall continues to grow.  Finding a way to say “yes” to immigrants more often than “no,” or “yes, but it’s going to be super expensive for you,” will benefit everyone – even the people who think otherwise.

For more reading on the matter, check out these articles from Huffington Post, MSNBC, The New York Times, and NPR.