A Laughing Matter

Immigration policy is a joke on both the left and right.


If you're looking for laughs, the nation's capital probably isn't the place to start your search. But you can still find reasons for levity if you try. Take immigration.

About a year ago, elite opinion was choking on its own rage over Arizona's harsh new immigration law. Much of that law simply recapitulated federal policy at the state level, but certain parts went beyond federal statute.

Well. This was something up with which one must not put. And one did not. The Obama administration swiftly filed suit in order to defend the principle of federal supremacy. States, said the administration, had no business deviating from federal policy on immigration, which was a federal matter best left to the federal government, on account of its being a federal deal and all.

Federal judge Susan Bolton agreed and swiftly issued an injunction.

The New York Times pronounced itself pleased. Bolton's "clear and well-reasoned arguments," it wrote, affirmed "the federal government's final authority over immigration enforcement."

Whew! Another constitutional crisis averted.

Now, though, things are looking a mite different. The Obama administration's pursuit of illegal aliens through the Secure Communities program has alarmed good progressives everywhere. Under Secure Communities, the FBI forwards the fingerprints it receives from local law-enforcement agencies to federal immigration authorities. The program has led to the deportation of hundreds of thousands of undocumented aliens.

The program's critics say it has deported too many small-time offenders—and even non-offenders, such as victims of domestic violence. Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York have stopped cooperating. Legislators and interest groups want California Gov. Jerry Brown to end that state's compliance, too.

In response, the Obama administration has filed a lawsuit in a friendly venue before a judge who is guaranteed to insist that the wayward states knuckle under.

Ha ha! Of course it hasn't.

Rather, the administration has pointed out that the program does not need state consent to go forward. It will continue to expand the program. At the same time, though, it has begun holding hearings around the country so opponents can air their concerns. And last week the Obama administration announced that merely being in the U.S. illegally would no longer be sufficient cause for deportation—you'll have to break some laws that really matter.

That hasty retreat probably will not satisfy the nation's newspaper of record, though. The New York Times has expressed its displeasure that the administration will not only "stick with Secure Communities . . . but force it down the throats of state and local leaders. . . . No one can opt out. It's non-negotiable."

Yikes! Having the federal government order people around without their consent like that is just terrible, is it not? It sure is! Unless it's forcing them to buy health insurance. Then, you know, it's social justice. You'd think a newspaper that had cheered Judge Bolton for rejecting "the Arizona way: an incoherent immigration system" would be delighted by the administration's assertion of the federal government's final authority over immigration policy. You'd think that—if you had never read the Times before.

It's the same thing over on the other coast. Last year, the Los Angeles Times was denouncing "Arizona's Overreach": The state's "attempt to crack down on companies that hire illegal immigrants encroaches on federal authority," it lamented. But now it says that "if the governor [of California] agrees to pull out" of Secure Communities—i.e., if he tries to secede from federal immigration coherence—that "would be fine with us."

Neither the Obama administration nor its hod-carriers in the press care one whit about federal supremacy. They trot out the argument when it's convenient and stuff it under the mattress when it's not. Liberals play this sort of game all the time.

But then, so do conservatives. They rail against ObamaCare's requirement that you have proof of health insurance. Yet many of them defended an Arizona statute requiring residents to carry their papers with them at all times in case a government agent wanted to see them.

Indeed, the conservative movement is filled with people who praise the virtues of free-market economics in one breath—and, in the next, denounce the free movement of labor across arbitrary political borders.

One minute conservatives are organizing Lemonade Freedom Day to protest recent incidents in which heavy-handed bureaucrats have shut down children's lemonade stands for operating without proper permits. The next, they're cheering on the federal e-Verify program, which provides "instant verification of work authorization."

If you're looking for laughs, the nation's capital probably isn't the place to start your search. The rest of the country, though—that's fair game.

A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.