Some in Utah are calling for an Arizona-style approach to dealing with our undocumented neighbors in the name of what they imagine to be the "rule of law." Should the state heed such calls?
A quick thought exercise may provide some insight.
Say that one evening you hear a knock at the door. It's a man who lives in your neighborhood and belongs to the same religious congregation as you. His family also happens to be Hispanic.
He says that one of his children is ill and asks for your assistance. As a person of faith and as a decent human being, you agree to help. In the course of these poignant moments, your neighbor confides that he and his family — spouse and children — are not citizens and in fact entered the country illegally.
Would you go home and report your neighbor and his family to federal immigration authorities?
The dilemma this scenario presents is not hypothetical for many Utahns. It is a human reality they face regularly. They have neighbors, friends, fellow worshippers and other associates that they know to be undocumented. In most of these instances, if not all, the answer to the above question is "No."
So how does this relate to the debate over whether Utah should mimic the Arizona scheme? We have three choices with respect to the question of how to deal with illegal immigrants now living in the state: Round 'em up; starve 'em out; or help them out. The answer depends on what kind of society we want for Utah. Uprooting and potentially separating an otherwise law-abiding family, especially for a minor offense comparable to speeding, goes well beyond what many responsible citizens regard as a reasonable definition of justice and sense of human decency. If a policy proposed to address the presence of undocumented people is to be both effective and right for Utah, it cannot disregard these human realities. Rather, it must address and even be grounded in them.
To ensure a reality-based approach, we must view our undocumented neighbors as we view ourselves — as people, not objects. We must reject the Arizona solution which simply objectifies human beings as "criminals" that can be rounded up and shipped out in the pursuit of an unreasonable definition of the "rule of law."
Rejecting Arizona's strategy in favor of a reality-based approach will be difficult, as doing the right thing often is. It will require Utahns to check their emotions, including their frustration with the federal government's ineffective immigration system. Even more difficult, a reality-based approach will involve a lot of soul searching and critical self-reflection, which may reveal things about our thinking we may find to be unpleasant.
In return, our efforts will produce not only a reality-acknowledging dialogue, but a more civil one as well. Only through such dialogue can responsible citizens help Utah remain the freedom-loving society we all desire and a better place to live, work and raise a family. Only in this manner can we protect and maintain our own human dignity and that of our undocumented neighbors.
Further, without a civil, reality-based discussion about undocumented residents, in the end it will not matter what we decide to do. For whatever policy choice we make, if we degrade our humanity and that of our neighbors, we will end up regretting our choice for a long time to come.
Derek Monson is policy manager at the Sutherland Institute, a conservative public policy organization in Salt Lake City.