A recent University of Utah study on the impact of Mexico's relationship to Utah presents a side of the issue that seldom gets aired in public discussions. But this is a side that cannot be ignored in the creation of sound public policy.
Simply put, Utah and Mexico have a thriving economic exchange, and the Mexican nationals who are here contribute greatly to the local economy in terms of labor and business ownership.
For instance, Mexican nationals and immigrants own many businesses here. While the report is based on data that is nearly 10 years old, it shows that 1,834 businesses are Mexican-owned, resulting in $227 million in annual sales. Surely, those figures are much higher today. In addition, 68 percent of Hispanics in Utah have bank savings accounts, which is a sign of personal thrift and responsibility.
The other side of the debate tends to get a lot more attention. It revolves around the many illegal immigrants in Utah who migrate from the south in search of jobs. The report doesn't gloss over this. It found that about half of the state's Mexican immigrants are undocumented. This is, indeed, a problem the federal government needs to do a better job of addressing. But Utah's overall Hispanic population in 2003 was 233,425. To attempt a wholesale separation of the illegal from the legal is simply not practical. In addition, both sets contribute to the local economy.
Nor would it be wise to deny an education to any segment of this population. As the report shows, an Hispanic college graduate can expect to earn $1.7 million over a working lifetime, which adds to the state's per capita income and increases its tax base. As is typical with all immigrants, the second generation tends to prosper and assimilate easily.
A guest-worker system or some other orderly border-control method would be in the best interests of Utah and Mexico. However, it is more important for Utah's leaders to acquaint themselves with the other side of the immigration debate the side that measures imports and exports, salaries, ownership and cultural ties.