SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Compact, which has been called a sensible approach to immigration reform, is catching on in other states.
Already, Florida, Georgia, Nebraska and Maine have crafted legislation similar to the Utah Compact. This week, Indiana legislators unveiled a compact of their own.
"The Utah Compact demonstrated to the nation that there is an alternative to Arizona-style, enforcement-only punitive legislation," said Paul Mero, president of the Sutherland Institute, a conservative Utah-based think tank. Mero was one of the original signers of the compact, and was instrumental in its creation. "The Compact calls, as did Governor Herbert, for comprehensive reform that promotes prosperity, security and freedom in Utah. Several other states have seen how civic, religious, and community groups in Utah united to work together to find a sensible solution, and they are saying, 'This makes sense. Let's put something similar together in our state.'"
The Indiana Compact is almost identical to Utah's measure, which was crafted by local business, religious and community leaders. Its basic message is that state law-enforcement resources should be dedicated to criminal activity, instead of violations of civil code. It also expresses concern that strict enforcement laws unnecessarily separate families, and acknowledges the economic role that immigrants play as workers and taxpayers. Overall, it encourages citizens to act with humanity towards immigrants in order to make society welcoming.
The Indiana Compact also stresses that immigration policy is a federal matter, not a state issue.
In defending his decision to support the measure, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller told the Indianapolis Star earlier this week, "as the state's government, we must focus on our own vital role and be realistic about assuming federal enforcement responsibilities when the methods of doing so might be constitutionally suspect or fiscally impractical."
Ann Morse, program director of the Immigrant Policy Project of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Washington, D.C. said that the overwhelming majority of state legislators that have talked to her office are looking for a federal solution to immigration reform, but in the meantime will do the best with the tools they have. She also said that the Utah Compact is gaining traction in other states.
"I do think states are looking for new approaches with regards to immigration," she said. "I have gotten a lot of queries about the Utah Compact; it
is a very novel and interesting approach to immigration policy."
Within weeks of the Utah Compact's unveiling last November, a New York Times editorial lauded it with praise, saying that "a clearer example of good sense and sanity than Utah's would be hard to find." The Times also characterized the compact as a welcome contrast to the "xenophobic radicalism" of legislation like the Arizona bill.
The original developers of the Utah Compact are confident that their work will eventually help spur federal action.
"The starting point is at the state level, and when more and more states start to embrace these principles, you start to collect a handful of states, which will eventually catch the federal government's attention," said Marty Carpenter, spokesman for the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. "The success of the Utah Compact, at our state level and for other states, speaks to the soundness of the document. It really speaks to the silent majority: people who understand that there's an issue with regards to immigration, but are not comfortable with the way things have been done in Arizona."
And while the Utah Compact does seem to be gaining momentum, some of its supporters are still worried that those with pro-enforcment sentiments won't back down.
"I stand by the principles in the compact, and I think it's a real positive for our state that we are looked at as leaders on this issue. However, I am afraid that people who have such strongly held beliefs about immigration won't change their mind," said Deborah Bayle, CEO of the United Way of Salt Lake.
Most, however, are optimistic.
"We are optimistic that the legislation which will ultimately pass will reflect principles reflected in the Utah Compact. It's initial impact can be measured by the fact that if anything, it has framed the conversation here in Utah," said Carpenter. "Whoever brings a bill will have see how it stands with regards to the Compact."