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Editorial

Immigration: Leave it to the feds

A proposal for California to register undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements and ask federal authorities not to deport them is well-meaning. But immigration is not the state's to manage.

April 09, 2012
  • U.S. immigration officers are seen in Calexico, Calif. A bipartisan effort led by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Los Angeles) and Mike Madrid, a former political director of the state Republican Party, hopes to place the California Opportunity and Prosperity Act, or COPA, on the November ballot.
U.S. immigration officers are seen in Calexico, Calif. A bipartisan effort… (Los Angeles Times )

California has so far managed to avoid the mistake made by Alabama, Arizona and other states that have sought to enact local immigration laws even though that is an area that is rightly the responsibility of the federal government. But that may soon change.

A bipartisan effort led by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar) and Mike Madrid, a former political director of the state Republican Party, hopes to place the California Opportunity and Prosperity Act, or COPA, on the November ballot. The proposal would allow undocumented immigrants who have been in the state since 2007, have no criminal record, speak English and are employed and pay taxes to join a state immigration registry. California officials would then submit that list to federal authorities, asking them to make those immigrants a low priority for deportation.

Supporters argue that COPA wouldn't conflict with federal law because it wouldn't prevent enforcement efforts. Rather, they say, it is simply a request that the Obama administration stick to the priorities it announced last year. The administration vowed to focus its enforcement efforts on illegal immigrants with criminal histories given that it doesn't have the resources to deport all of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants believed to be living in the United States.

The argument justifying state involvement in immigration law is a familiar one. Supporters of Arizona's SB 1070, the noxious law that effectively sought to turn police and civilians into immigration officers, also contended that it only seeks to help federal officials identify those immigrants who are deportable.

But that is disingenuous. The federal government has sole authority to set immigration rules and enforce them.

And COPA's supporters, though well meaning, could in fact undermine their own goals. Another administration could easily use the same immigrant registry to target people for deportation.

No doubt, COPA's proponents want to send a message — backed by voters — that the vast majority of the undocumented people in this country aren't committing crimes but simply seeking a better life. Unfortunately, COPA isn't the right vehicle for that message.

In the end, immigration is a federal problem and needs a federal fix. COPA, like SB 1070, is an unconstitutional attempt by a state to regulate immigration, and should be opposed.

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