Kentucky's flirtation with an Arizona-style immigration law in 2011 showcased the potentially huge costs to the state: Employers, especially agriculture and the horse industry, said they couldn't afford to lose immigrant labor. And the state couldn't afford to lock up all those otherwise law-abiding workers.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday provided a third reason Kentucky and most states were smart to leave immigration enforcement to the feds: Three of the four provisions in the Arizona law were declared unconstitutional.
The court did let stand, for the time being, Arizona's controversial requirement that police investigate the immigration status of suspects who have been lawfully stopped.
Many people fear this requirement is an invitation to racial profiling. The court said it would be premature to rule until seeing how states actually carry out the mandate.
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Kentucky's was one of 30 legislatures that considered Arizona-style laws in 2011. The most prominent backer of a crackdown on undocumented immigrants in Kentucky was Senate President David Williams, a Republican who was gearing up to run for governor later that year.
Five states — Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah — enacted omnibus immigration laws in 2011, all of which have been partially or entirely enjoined by courts, according to the National Council of State Legislatures. No state has enacted an omnibus immigration law since then.
In Kentucky, the House shut down the Senate's attempt to criminalize the act of seeking a job if you're in this country without papers, while the Senate killed a House bill that would have put the onus on employers to check the immigration status of workers before hiring them.
That Kentucky, a state so far from a national border, has become so dependent on immigrant labor reveals how important it is for Congress to finally enact meaningful immigration reform.
The weak economy and stricter border enforcement have slowed the stream of immigrants.
But the economy will rebound; when it does, reform should provide legal ways for more guest workers to go back and forth across the border for seasonal jobs.
For those living in this country, whether they were brought here as children or came like waves of immigrants before them for a better future, there should be a path to citizenship.