WASHINGTON – This week, four months after Utah leaders signed the “Utah Compact” the Utah legislature passed immigration legislation that includes a guest worker program as well as some tough enforcement measures. It is the second state, after Arizona, to pass sweeping state-based immigration legislation this year. The following is a statement from Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National immigration Forum:
“It is remarkable that in an overwhelmingly conservative state Utah leaders have produced legislation that includes more than a deportation-only approach. In 2008, Utah voted overwhelmingly Republican, handing Senator McCain a 29 point victory over President Obama, 20 points larger than his win in his home state of Arizona. According to the Cook Partisan Voting Index, a measurement of how strongly a state leans toward one political party compared to the nation as a whole, Utah is THE most partisan and the most Republican state in the nation, far more lopsided than Arizona. Yet the conservative leadership produced legislation that included – and in contrast with Arizona - more than just enforcement, showing that thoughtful conservative leadership has more to offer than the broken status quo.
Last November, Utah leaders came together to sign the “Utah Compact,” a set of moderate, common-sense principles to guide the immigration debate. The Compact also called on the federal government to do its job and get to work on this issue. While Arizona allowed extremists like Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce and Maricopa County Sherriff Arpaio to demagogue and dominate their debate, Utah’s conservative leadership moved forward quietly using the Compact as the basis of their negotiations and propelled the immigration debate in a more constructive direction.
While the finalized legislation falls well short of the principles of the Compact, it represents an attempt by many of Utah’s leaders to solve a tough and persistent problem in a manner decidedly different from Arizona’s poisonous approach. Utah’s Governor wasn’t on national television making up stories about headless bodies in the desert, and the bill’s lead sponsor wasn’t engaging in demagoguery about so-called anchor babies. In short, tone matters.
Congress should follow Utah’s example and engage in serious, bipartisan debate that is void of the sensationalist, dishonest, and heated rhetoric that characterized Arizona’s approach. Our nation needs comprehensive immigration reform legislation that is inclusive, fair, and respects the rule of law. The National Immigration Forum does not believe there can be state-based substitutes for federal comprehensive immigration reform. Any successful immigration reform measures will promote the value of immigrants and immigration to the United States and will not rely on draconian and counterproductive enforcement requirements.
Utah Governor Herbert’s signature on this legislation begs more questions than it answers. Americans want to know what is next and when their elected leaders in Washington will deliver immigration reform. We have seen over and over again that the federal government’s failure to reform our immigration laws has created a political vacuum and states have stepped in to fill the void. Several of the enforcement provisions in Utah’s new laws are deeply troubling and will be challenged in the courts, and it’s clear that federal action is needed immediately. Until the federal government completes comprehensive immigration reform, states continue to feel forced to create their own patchwork systems to address the crisis. What is clear is that Americans want Congress to solve this problem once and for all.