Community leaders urge moderate approach to immigration reform

Published: Friday, Nov. 12 2010 11:00 a.m. MST

Bishop John C. Wester signs a document called the Utah Compact in support of immigration reform at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City Thursday.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Frustrated with a discussion some say has turned hateful, a broad swath of business, political and religious leaders joined forces Thursday to speak out against tough, enforcement-only immigration policy and urge legislators to take a gentler, more "humane" approach to reform.

State legislators who have been lobbying for an aggressive charge against illegal immigration, in the meantime, remained undeterred.

Similar arguments are taking place in states across the country as local governments struggle to figure out how to pick up the pieces of a broken federal immigration system. While states lack the constitutional power to grant citizenship or rework the visa system, "states can either welcome illegal immigration in their jurisdiction or they can discourage illegal immigration," said Jon Feere, legal policy analyst for the Center for Immigration Studies. Twenty-two states have followed in Arizona's footsteps, filing bills to crack down on undocumented immigrants and push for more deportations, but many states are gearing up to make their states more immigrant friendly.

"Before the Legislature begins discussing policy, there needs to be a broad public debate about our culture," said Paul Mero, president of the Sutherland Institute, a conservative, Utah-based think tank. "We have to ask ourselves, 'What kind of society do we want in Utah?' "

The Sutherland Institute, along with the Utah Attorney General's Office, the Salt Lake City Mayor's Office, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and United Way, kicked off that conversation Thursday with the introduction of the Utah Compact, a document outlining five principles "to guide Utah's immigration discussion."

"In meetings with other groups it became evident that there was a groundswell of business and community leaders who were concerned with the tone of the discussion and the direction it was taking," said Marty Carpenter, spokesman for the Salt Lake Chamber, the largest business association in the state. "We felt we were part of a silent majority and we needed to find a way to break the silence."

In a ceremony at the state Capitol, big names like former Gov. Olene Walker, former U.S. Sen. Jake Garn and the Most Rev. John C. Wester, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake signed the Utah Compact. Later in the day, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement of support.

The LDS Church statement called the Utah Compact a "responsible approach to the urgent challenge of immigration reform."

"As a worldwide church dealing with many complex issues across the globe," the statement said, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints promotes broad, foundational principles that have worldwide application." It went on to add, "Public officials should create and administer laws that reflect the best of our aspirations as a just and caring society. Such laws will properly balance love for neighbors, family cohesion, and the observance of just and enforceable laws."

Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, said the Utah Compact is a direct jab at his bill, which supports aggressive enforcement of immigration laws. He believes "the silent majority" supports the bill. Since the Utah Compact was released to the public, his e-mail has been flooded with support, he said.

"The majority of people see our state being ruined by illegal immigration, and they want something done," he said.

The Utah Compact calls on Utah to focus law enforcement resources on "criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code."

"We are different from Arizona," said Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who signed the compact. "We do things differently here. We want to show people we can do something about this issue in a compassionate and lawful way."

Enforcement is not the only way to uphold the rule of law, Shurtleff said.

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