Heritage Foundation: Feds Sue Illinois for Flouting Immigration Law

Hooray for Michael Chertoff! Hooray for his Department of Homeland Security!

They’re taking the scofflaws to court. This time, it’s not just a meat-packing plant or a construction contractor, or some small business hiring illegal aliens. This time, it’s the whole blooming state of Illinois, which has one of the worst records of looking the other way when illegals take jobs.

Taking the amnesty approach to a new low, Illinois passed a law banning employers from participating in the Basic Pilot Program (aka E-Verify), the successful federal system used to track down phony Social Security numbers and thus detect illegal workers.

Other states, such as Arizona, are mandating that employers use this system. Going the other way is Illinois, the so-called “Land of Lincoln” that henceforth shall be called the “Land of Winkin’” — winking at illegal workers, that is.

In announcing the lawsuit, Chertoff said, “Well, it's very simple. When Congress passes a law, everybody has to abide by it, and that includes the states. And the states don't get a veto over which federal laws they want to have obeyed or not obeyed. In this case, the state's actually gone so far as to prevent people from obeying the law or taking advantage of an opportunity Congress has provided to check your workers. And we just can't allow that to continue.”

He’s right. And he’s also right about the other stepped-up enforcement that just rounded up a couple thousand more illegal aliens in New York and California, despite outcries from the usual parties. Still, there’s a long way to go. So here’s hoping he’ll be consistent and go after other places that have made amnesty policies official.

Will his department now also sue the states that have granted in-state tuition to illegal immigrant college students, in direct violation of federal law?

And will DHS now sue the cities that thumb their noses at the law with what they call sanctuary policies and the rest of us call amnesty? The Congressional Research Service identified 32 such communities in 2006; others list a larger number. Big cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, Houston and Seattle top the list.

Would lawsuits against these amnesty policies be successful? They should be, because Congress in 1996 passed a law requiring states and communities to cooperate with immigration enforcement — a law the courts have already upheld. The challenge is that some of these places apply benign neglect even if a formal policy is invalidated.

Another way to attack the policies of amnesty cities lies within their bureaucracies: A great many public employees are just as disgusted as most Americans at lax enforcement of immigration laws. When they encounter knowledge of an illegal alien using government services, whether it’s health care, housing, education or whatever, they can report it on their own. The key is that they are protected from job reprisals by a specific federal whistleblower law! Passed in 1996, Title 8, Section 1373A of the United States Code expressly trumps all other laws and guarantees the right of any government official to report immigration violations.

The left is urging civil disobedience on immigration. Conservatives should urge civil obedience. That requires protecting and defending all patriotic public employees who will report immigration violations, even if their higher-ups object.

We cannot sit back and watch the endless waves of amnesty proposals being presented in Congress. Communities are taking a pro-active approach to outflank Washington. The Department of Homeland Security should be praised for challenging Illinois’ counter-move. They should be even more pro-active, and so should the rest of us.

Ernest Istook, a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), served 14 years in the U.S. Congress.