Why Your State Should Follow Utah's Example

By Andrew Simpson 3-08-2011

Reading the recent headlines of immigration news has hardly been uplifting, with multiple state legislatures attempting to pass Arizona-style enforcement measures, and the new draconian Arizona legislation aimed at undocumented immigrants and their children.

Yet, despite these disappointing developments, we must remember that voices of compassionate reason are still alive and well. Just look at what happened in Utah this weekend: both chambers of Utah's legislature passed legislation to grant temporary legal recognition to undocumented immigrant laborers.

The passage of such legislation in the Republican controlled Utah legislature was highly improbable (if not impossible) last year at this time. However, last November, the tide began to change as a group of political, business, law-enforcement, and religious leaders decided to stand up against the Arizona-style anti-immigrant policies being proposed in their state.

This rare coalition created the Utah Compact: a statement of five common-sense principles intended to guide Utah's response to a broken national immigration system. The compact insists that "families are the foundation of successful communities" and opposes policies which unnecessarily separate immigrant families. It acknowledges the economic importance of immigrants as workers and tax payers. It calls upon local law enforcement officials to focus their resources on criminal activities instead of civil violations which are often used to illegally profile immigrants.

The compact reminds law-makers that "immigration is a federal policy issue," and urges them to focus on strengthening federal laws and adopting reasonable policies to address immigration in Utah. It also acknowledges that immigrants are deeply integrated into local communities. Therefore, according to the compact, Utah must adopt a humane approach to immigration reform which reflects the state's "unique culture, history and spirit of inclusion."

The principles expressed in the Utah Compact are evidence that immigration reform is not, as some would have us believe, a decision between open borders or mass deportation. There is a logical, humane middle ground.

Other states including Florida, Georgia, Nebraska, Maine, and Indiana have been inspired by the spirit of the Utah compact and have created similar documents as a way to guide the immigration discussion in their own communities and legislatures. It is a hopeful sign that there may be a strong contingent of people in the United States who wish to fix a broken immigration system, but who are disillusioned with radical solutions.

Who are these people? Who are the advocates of compassionate, reasonable, and functional immigration reform who would sign onto such a document? In Utah many of them are followers of Christ. These are the people of faith who have realized that we are all children of God and that the biblical narrative is one of limitless grace and compassion. I applaud all of those people of faith who have decided to stand on the side of the marginalized and are simply asking everyone else to join them, and to do so even before the tide of opinion changes.

Andrew Simpson is a policy intern for Sojourners.

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