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Immigration law, watched closely by farmers, partially rejected by Supreme Court

July 5, 2012 | 0 comments

Federal immigration policy is an item that is watched ever more closely by dairy farmers in Wisconsin - many of whom employ foreign-born workers - and last week there was a Supreme Court decision that will affect state and federal policy on such issues.

On June 25 the Supreme Court struck down three out of four key provisions of Arizona's controversial law aimed at prosecuting and detering illegal immigrants. The court left one portion of the Arizona law intact.

In a 5-3 ruling the court said that Arizona had tried in effect to set up a parallel enforcement system that punished illegal immigrants more harshly and interfered with the federal government's authority over the country's immigration policy.

Some observers called it a "tie," others said it will likely be the first in a string of legal challenges to similar state immigration laws.

In this case, the justices looked at issues of the right of states to determine their own policies and how much power lies with the federal government.

The court struck down the part of the Arizona law that made it a misdemeanor for people not to carry identification showing whether or not they are in the United States legally. Also struck down was a part of the law that made it illegal for undocumented immigrants to apply for a job.

The justices also ruled that state officials cannot arrest someone simply on the suspicion that they are in the country illegally.

The provision that the court left in place for Arizona officials was the one that requires police to check on the immigration status of anyone they detain if there is "reasonable suspicion" that the person is in this country illegally.

The justices unanimously stated that federal law already requires immigration officials to respond to status checks from local authorities, and therefore federal immigration law does not preempt this section of the Arizona law.

In ruling on that provision the justices said that this part of the law could be subject to more legal challenges. The court said it left that provision alone because it would be improper for the federal government to step in before state courts have a chance to rule on it.

Several dairy spokespersons noted that the mixed court ruling points out the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

Laurie Fischer, executive director of Wisconsin's Dairy Business Association, told Wisconsin State Farmer that the federal government needs to get busy on immigration reform - an increasingly important factor in running a dairy business.

"Wisconsin dairy producers need for the federal government to pass dairy immigration reforms that will allow Wisconsin's dairy industry to employ foreign workers in an expedited process," Fischer said.

"While the Supreme Court decision told us what parts of Arizona's immigration policy were constitutional, it did not set a new immigration reform policy, which our federal government must do."

Jerry Kozak, president and chief executive officer of National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) the group that represents 31 cooperatives and more than 32,000 dairy producers, said the high court's ruling illustrates how controversial and divisive the few options for immigration policy remain.

He also noted the recent executive order from the Obama administration to stop deporting some younger, undocumented people.

"These developments show how critically necessary it is to resolve the immigration policy conundrum, especially for farmers and other employers concerned with maintaining and recruiting a workforce," Kozak said.

"This decision highlights the need for continued efforts to reform federal immigration laws, and NMPF will continue to work with regulators and lawmakers to create workable solutions for dairy farmers and their workers," he said.

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