Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s visit to Mexico this month will test his leadership and ability to live up to the principles he espoused at his inauguration. Is he willing to use his political capital for the good of the state and put immigration on the table? Or will the governor, by default, consent to have Utah taxpayers pay for the benefits the business community is reaping from illegal immigration?

Last February, I was singing his praises for being the only state political leader willing to talk about the elephant in the room — immigration. The newly arrived Mexican consul said he could not give his opinion on immigration. The governor had expressed an interest in having the Mexican president, Vicente Fox, visit Utah to bring greater understanding about trade and immigration.

Now, the governor's topics for discussion with Mexican President Fox will be economic development, tourism, trade, and investment between Utah and Mexico. No mention of immigration.

At a time when the problem of illegal immigration is a major issue dividing our community, it looks like he's forgotten his inaugural address commitment that whatever "political capital" he possessed would be used for the "good of the state." Instead, he seems to be more concerned about the needs of business while ignoring the problems facing our people.

While economic development is important, it should be a means for promoting the public good, not just to benefit a special interest group. Immigration is — and always has been — a work force issue and a key part of economic development. It needs to be part of any discussion on that matter. To do otherwise is to compromise the people's interest and the humanitarian principles of our society.

Businesspeople are actively pushing economic development with Mexico, since they see great benefit from immigration, legal and illegal. Business is accelerating the in-migration of Mexicans that are a source of cheap labor and, in many instances, work for no benefits. Business is also eager to capitalize on the skyrocketing Mexican consumer market. The financial community has been especially creative in profiting from the transfer of money to Mexico. While they stood silently by as immigrants lost their state identification cards, they were quick to accept the Mexican matricula card as identification for doing business with the banks.

Though businesspeople are benefiting from illegal immigration, they appear unwilling to help pay for the costs of the impact of their actions on our state's public infrastructure. They seem ready to let the Utah taxpayers pay for their overhead. It is estimated there are more than 6,000 employers who do not provide workers with workers' compensation. When a worker suffers an industrial accident and has no health insurance, part of those costs are borne by taxpayers and added on to premiums of those who carry insurance. Utah insurance premiums are rapidly increasing, in part to cover the growing number of uninsured.

Our educational system is struggling financially, exacerbated by employers continuing to attract poor Mexicans without any concern for the social and financial burden they place on our schools. We have a growing pool of immigrant children in today's classrooms. We can look at them as an asset in bringing new vitality to our economy by educating them, or relegate them to tomorrow's poverty pool.

Mexico has turned the outsourcing of its poor people into a $14 billion-plus major economic growth program without any investment in developing its own ability to meet the needs of its people. The matricula card seems to be its economic program. And, Mexico has allowed China to take away the few industries that created jobs for their less-skilled. China now manufactures images of La Virgen de Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint. That says a lot.

Maybe the governor could propose to President Fox that for every matricula card issued, the Mexican government would put $5,000 (or some other amount) in the state's education fund. Maybe he could propose to tax any financial institution accepting matricula cards in transferring money. The governor might recommend that any employer who does not have workers' compensation insurance pay for the cost of the injured worker's medical care. And, perhaps he could challenge Utah businesses to help Mexico create jobs there that would curb the need for Mexicans to leave their country.

There are, no doubt, many reasonable options to be explored. To Utah citizens, however, the benefits of any trade and economic development with Mexico will be lost if the governor fails to use what political capital he has and doesn't put illegal immigration on the table when he visits President Fox. It would be in the interest of both their respective citizens to do so.


Utah native John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations, served on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch and on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards. He also has been deputy assistant secretary of labor. E-mail: jdflorez@comcast.net".