SALT LAKE CITY — Local Latino leaders welcomed a new document backed by a broad spectrum of Utah business, political and community leaders aimed at reframing the heated and emotional debate on illegal immigration.
Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah, called the so-called Utah Compact and subsequent LDS Church statement of support a "game changer" in efforts to reform immigration laws at the state level.
And Archie Archuleta, chairman of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, said he now sees some light at the end of the tunnel. But "we hope that the tunnel doesn't collapse."
How much weight the statements carry with the Legislature remains to be seen. At least a dozen immigration bills could be considered when lawmakers convene in January, with Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's controversial proposal being the most publicized to date.
"I think it will play in as a factor," said Senate President Michael Waddoups. But in the end, he said, legislators will do what they think is best for the state and their constituents.
The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, the Utah Attorney General's Office, the Salt Lake City Mayor's Office, the Sutherland Institute and United Way on Thursday unveiled the Utah Compact, a document outlining five principles, such as urging federal solutions and keeping families together, to guide the immigration discussion. Compact signers include former Gov. Olene Walker and former U.S. Sen. Jake Garn.
A KSL flash poll conducted Friday by Dan Jones & Associates shows 64 percent of Utahns agree with the premise of the compact calling for a civil and compassionate approach to immigration legislation in Utah. Twenty percent disagreed with that notion, while 18 percent didn't have an opinion. Jones surveyed 260 households statewide. The poll has plus or minus 5 percent error margin.
Gov. Gary Herbert did not sign the document. His spokeswoman, Angie Welling, issued a statement Friday saying the governor is "heartened that business, community and ecclesiastical leaders have come together to lend their voices to this effort." Herbert has stressed what he calls a "Utah solution" to the immigration problem.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Thursday released a statement supporting the compact, saying "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."
In the poll, Jones found that the church's statement made no difference for 42 percent of residents regarding their view of a restrictive Arizona-style immigration bill Utah lawmakers may consider in January. Meantime, 28 percent say the statement made them more supportive of such legislation, while 23 percent say they are less supportive.
Sandstrom said he sees the compact as a direct jab at his bill, which would require law enforcement officers to inquire about the immigration status of anyone arrested if they have "reasonable suspicion" that the person is here illegally. He's not alone in that thinking.
"It seems to be more nonsense," said Alex Segura, of the Utah Minuteman Project. "Washington, D.C., is not going to solve the problem. It's more likely that we'll see Humpty Dumpty get back together again. … I think this is an attempt to put pressure on Rep. Sandstrom to water down the bill and make it go away."
Yapias said he hopes the statements will prompt legislators to back away from the bills they are proposing.
Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, said the positions of those supporting the compact are already well known and won't have much of an impact on lawmakers, who, he says, already want to be compassionate while upholding the rule of law.
"It's not new information and this is not really a game changer in any way," said Wimmer, who is sponsoring a bill to eliminate in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.
Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said the LDS Church statement "adds credence" to the compact, but immigration reform is a government issue.
"We all believe in being good neighbors," he said. "It doesn't mean we're going to throw out the rule of law for those who break the laws of our country."
Waddoups said he anticipates the 2011 Legislature approving at least one or two immigration-related bills. He said knowing the church's view will actually make it easier for bills to pass.
"We know the church has taken a position. We don't have to dance around what they might think because we know what they think," he said.
Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said the immigration statements may help guide lawmakers' decision making.
"The nice thing about the compact is that it's fairly general, so that it gives legislators some room to operate," he said. "It does give them kind of a light to walk toward."