Hot topic gets hotter

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If Monday’s ruling on the Arizona immigration law is any indicator, the U.S. Supreme Court’s next big one, on the Affordable Care Act, might not make anyone especially happy.

Liberal and conservative justices joined in upholding the state’s requirement that police officers demand immigration papers if they suspect individuals they pull over are in this nation illegally. But that’s where their power ends. All the officers can do is turn over the information they gather to U.S. immigration agents, who have sole authority to enforce the law but often find themselves unable or unwilling to do so.

The Obama administration, whose challenge of the Arizona law led to the ruling, recently raised the political stakes with the president’s announcement that illegal immigrants brought into the country as children, through no choice of their own, are not subject to immediate deportation. It’s a humanitarian policy that does not solve the bigger problem presented by an estimated 11 million illegals who’ve settled into the routines of American life and cannot easily be uprooted and sent back where they came from.

Border states are not alone in confronting this dilemma. It’s estimated 85 percent of the Latinos living in Kentucky are illegals. Here, they’ve been the subjects of both tragic and inspirational stories.

In 2008, 44-year-old Ana Romero of El Salvador hanged herself in a cell at the Franklin County Regional Jail where she was being held awaiting deportation. She had come to Kentucky three years previously and taken on domestic work to support her mother and two sons. State police arrested her for having a false identification card and she was lodged in the jail for customs enforcement agents to pick her up for the journey home at the time she took her own life.

Two years ago, Julio Martinez, a Franklin County High School graduate, came under threat of deportation because he had missed an immigration hearing in 1999 when he was 8 years old. He’d been brought into America as a child and presumably now qualifies to stay, within the limits of the Obama policy.

Emotions are high on both sides of the illegal immigration debate and both President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, walk a fine line between supporting the rule of law and remaining open to political compromise. The Associated Press quoted the president as saying he’s unhappy that the upheld section of the Arizona law requires enforcers to check immigration status. “No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like,” he said.

Romney has criticized the president for proposing only stopgap solutions. He said he’d have preferred the Supreme Court give the states more flexibility to fill gaps in the federal government’s enforcement actions. Some Republicans want stricter enforcement of immigration laws while others equivocate, particularly those who run business enterprises that profit from low-cost immigrant labor. Congress has been unable to find the middle ground.

The high court’s ruling did little to alter this impasse and the presidential election probably won’t help much, either. Illegal immigration might have been manageable if government had acted more decisively when border crossings started getting out of hand. With millions now claiming squatter rights, about the only hope left is to keep an undesirable situation from getting even worse.

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