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More confusion than clarification in Supreme Court’s immigration ruling

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling that threw out key provisions of a controversial Arizona immigration law might have left more confusion than clarification, as states with similar laws — including Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah – decide their next move.

Both sides of the immigration issue are claiming victory, which is as sure a sign as any that no one really won the day. At best, the Supreme Court punted on this one.

In a 5-3 ruling, justices let stand a provision in Arizona's immigration enforcement law that requires police to determine the immigration status of suspects when practicable and when they have a “reasonable suspicion” the person is in the country illegally. But the court invalidated provisions that would permit police to make warrantless arrests when people commit deportable offenses; punish people who fail to carry official immigration papers; and punish illegal immigrants who apply for work in Arizona.

Meanwhile, data published this past spring shows that for the first time in more than four decades, illegal migration from Mexico into the United States has fallen to a net zero. In other words, the undocumented population of the United States is no longer growing.

That’s right — for the first time in more than four decades, illegal migration from Mexico has fallen to zero. According to estimates from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the illegal immigrant population peaked at around 12 million in 2008, fell to 11 million in 2009 and has remained constant since then. Statistical analyses reveal the rate of new migration to the United States is essentially non-existent, while repeat visits by returned migrants are rare. In keeping with these calculations, border apprehensions have fallen to the lowest number since 1970, despite the fact that there are more Border Patrol agents on duty than ever.

But this trend had nothing to do with stricter state laws or stronger border enforcement. According to the National Academy of Sciences, it instead reflects the economic trends in Mexico and in the United States. In other words, there have been more job opportunities in Mexico than in the U.S. in recent years. If nothing else, our terrible economy might have slowed illegal immigration.

All of this begs the question of whether or not this issue demanded such swift action from our state legislators, especially at a time when other more pressing issues, such as chronic unemployment and budget shortfalls, continue to linger, and especially when such legislation was sure to generate a mountain of legal challenges.

In the next few days, weeks and months, legal analysts and others will work to determine the full impact of the court’s ruling on state statutes like those in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. For farmers who have to recruit and maintain a willing and qualified workforce, the uncertainty and confusion continues.

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