By Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller
As Indiana’s attorney general, I was invited to attend the April 18 public announcement of the proposed immigration reform legislation by the so-called “Gang of Eight” senators in Washington, D.C. This bipartisan group of U.S. senators had met more than 20 times in an attempt to fashion a comprehensive bill to address the complex issues involving immigration. My involvement, representing 36 state attorneys general who signed a letter urging Congress to make fixing immigration a priority, was not meant as a sign of support for any of the specific policy choices of the proposal, but rather was meant to show support for comprehensive reform.
Because of the federal government’s failure in recent years to address immigration, a number of state governments including Indiana passed state-level immigration laws. When legal challenges were filed against Indiana’s immigration law, I defended the statute in federal courts. The U.S. District Court recently found that portions of Indiana’s law dealing with warrantless arrests and foreign identification cards are unconstitutional. Other parts of Indiana’s statute were not challenged and remain in effect, such as the requirements on governmental employers and public contractors to use the federal E-Verify program to check employees’ legal status.
Efforts by various states to pass state-level immigration laws eventually brought the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided with finality last June that immigration is a matter for our federal government, not states. Enforcement of immigration laws is the duty of the executive branch in Washington and reform of immigration laws the responsibility of Congress. Now the question is whether our federal government will be able to do its job.
Criticism of the “Gang of Eight” senators’ legislative proposal already is coming from people of both political parties. Pundits who look at the many other issues Congress has been unable to address offer little hope that the “dysfunctional” federal legislative branch will be able to pass a comprehensive bill. Having worked for Dan Quayle first in the U.S. Senate and then in the White House in the 1980s, I can certainly appreciate the difficulty this task presents. But I believe that the issue of immigration is of such importance, and our current ineffective system is so detrimental to the future of our nation, that Congress simply must rise to the occasion.
The political pressures against a bill must be overcome. The public can help by realizing that a vote against some fully debated reform package – with all of its perceived flaws from the compromises made in the process – is actually a vote for the current broken system that threatens our future. It’s time for our federal officials to make immigration a priority and not make excuses for inaction.
Greg Zoeller is Indiana’s attorney general.