By Craig D. Galli
Helen Papanikolas' "The Peoples of Utah" celebrates Utah's immigration heritage which includes "pioneer Mormons who sought religious freedom" and the "later immigrants who came for economic security." Many living here trace their roots to these immigrants. Yet anti-immigrant legislation appears to have overwhelming support ensuring passage along partisan lines. The Legislature and governor are about to write a new chapter in Utah's immigration history. How will future generations evaluate anti-immigrant legislation if it passes?
First, at least by 2011, the LDS Church and the business community appear to have very little influence over the predominately LDS Legislature, governor and lieutenant governor. On Nov. 11, the church's stated position was unequivocal when it sided with other churches and the business community by adopting the Utah Compact: "The Church regards the declaration of the Utah Compact as a responsible approach to the urgent challenge of immigration reform. It is consistent with important principles for which we stand."
Supporters of the pending anti-immigrant legislation ignore these sound principles of the Utah Compact: "Immigration is a federal policy issue between the U.S. government and other countries — not Utah and other countries…. Local law enforcement resources should focus on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code…. We acknowledge the economic role immigrants play as workers and taxpayers. We oppose policies that unnecessarily separate families…. Utah's immigration policies must reaffirm our global reputation as a welcoming and business-friendly state."
Second, the legislation will harm Utah families. A key purpose of Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's bill is to use law enforcement to facilitate deportation of more undocumented persons. A 2009 report by the Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security, criticized the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for not documenting how many families have been forcibly separated through deportation: "A more complete data set is paramount in evaluating proposed legislative and policy options to reduce or prevent parent removals in specific circumstances." We likewise do not know how many families have been torn apart in Utah through forced deportation.
Recent studies conducted by the University of California at Berkeley Law School and others have documented the impacts on families subject to forced separation through deportation: loss of family belongings through seizure by landlords, loss of homes through foreclosures, malnutrition and homelessness of children left behind, psychological damage to children separated from parents and adolescent children turning to gangs for support. The inevitable consequence of the Sandstrom bill is an increase in forced separation of families through deportation along with the concomitant harm to children.
Third, the legislation's supporters overlook the economic harm to follow. How much will it cost the state to support the orphaned children left behind? How many are we already supporting? How much will it cost to litigate judicial challenges to state immigration laws which may be struck down by federal courts? How much revenue from tourism will be lost? Guests from Arizona recently told a Hinckley Institute of Politics gathering that Arizona is bracing itself to lose $490 million in tourism revenue this year alone. How many businesses considering a corporate move or business expansion will choose not to come to Utah because we are perceived as politically mean-spirited and family unfriendly?
Long after the winds of anti-immigration sentiment and the politics of fear will have calmed, what conclusions will historians draw from this chapter of Utah history? Will they recognize the same tradition of welcoming the world that we established during the 2002 Olympics, and which honors our own immigrant past? Fortunately, there is still time to determine how our history will be remembered.
Craig D. Galli lives and practices law in Salt Lake City.