Oklahoma Supreme Court upholds state anti-illegal-immigration law

The Oklahoma Supreme Court yesterday upheld a law that makes it illegal to knowingly transport undocumented immigrants, creates state barriers to hiring workers who are in the country illegally and requires proof of citizenship before a person can receive government benefits.

The decision comes as states across the country confront illegal immigration with similar laws, several of which have or will surely also face legal challenges.

The highest court in Oklahoma defended the decision critics called “political”:

“It is not the place of the Supreme Court or any court to concern itself with a statute’s propriety, desirability, wisdom or its practicality as a working proposition,” the 25-page ruling states. “Such questions are plainly and definitely established by fundamental laws as functions of the legislative branch of government.”

By an 8-1 vote, the Oklahoma Supreme Court did strike down one provision of the law — a provision that would have denied bail to illegal immigrants arrested on felony counts or driving under the influence complaints. Trial judges — not the legislature — should determine whether a defendant is a flight risk and set bail, the court decided.

Overall, a sound decision by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, not least because it reinforces the proper role of each branch of government. The Oklahoma court didn’t overstep its bounds by legislating, nor did it allow the legislature to step on the judicial branch by setting particular terms of bail. So, kudos to the court.

In general, legal challenges to these clearly constitutional state laws across the country are counterproductive — and don’t strike at the heart of the immigration debate. Of course states ought to be able to enforce the federal law, especially when the administration refuses to do so. To challenge that just seems unsophisticated.

States that have passed laws to double up on federal law haven’t introduced new criteria to decide who is allowed to come into the U.S. and how long they are allowed to stay. That is, with these laws, states, just as they should be, are seeking to secure their borders and minimize illegal immigration — they aren’t setting national immigration policy. But somebody needs to be — and, for once, that somebody is the federal government.

James C. Thomas, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit in Oklahoma, described Oklahoma’s anti-illegal-immigration law as “draconian” — but legislation rightly aimed to uphold the rule of law is not the problem. Perhaps Thomas and others who sympathize with the plight of immigrants who come into the country illegally because they feel they have no other recourse should turn their attention to immigration law itself, which desperately needs reform to ensure as many deserving applicants as possible receive citizenship in an efficient and sensible manner.