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In our opinion: The path forward

Published: Wednesday, March 16 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Gov. Gary Herbert on Tuesday signs a package of immigration bills passed by the Legislature in the Gold Room of the state Capitol.

Deseret News

For those who have labored to produce a unique Utah solution to the challenges of illegal immigration, Tuesday's signing by Gov. Gary Herbert of this year's comprehensive immigration reform legislation must have felt like the end of a long road.

This year, Utah's lawmakers have managed to accomplish legislatively what has eluded Congress: increased enforcement that weeds out dangerous criminals while providing a guest worker program coupled with tough but common-sense safeguards.

This Utah solution was facilitated by Herbert's efforts early on to get ideologically opposed stakeholders on this contentious issue to talk to one another. Business, religious and other community leaders also played an integral role as they fashioned a set of principles that came to be known as the Utah Compact as a guide to reform efforts.

Individual lawmakers worked through the painstaking task of putting principles into workable code language to guide implementation and harmonize with dozens of existing statutes.

It was, therefore, appropriate that so many of the lawmakers and business, religious and community leaders who have helpfully framed both the parameters and the particulars of the resulting solution could attend Tuesday's signing ceremony.

Although signing legislation into law marks a major achievement, the path forward for this set of common-sense reforms remains somewhat uncertain. The same seriousness of purpose, the same measured statesmanship and the same sense of urgency must now guide implementation.

The enforcement measures will require that our law enforcement officials be carefully trained to know when they are required or permitted to request verification of immigration status, and how to implement consistent with federal civil rights and constitutional protections. Fair and evenhanded enforcement will be critical for long-term public acceptance of these reforms.

The guest worker provisions will require Herbert to seek appropriate waivers from the federal government in order for Utah to implement its innovative approach. Because rapid implementation of the guest worker program will be vital to helping undocumented families come into the light, this effort must proceed with all due haste.

Given the importance of cooperating with the federal government and the importance of ultimately crafting a federal solution to the complex problems of illegal immigration, we now call on Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, as well as Reps. Rob Bishop, Jim Matheson and Jason Chaffetz to advocate forcefully on behalf of the Utah solution.

Forged through a sometimes contentious but always serious legislative process, the pieces that have come together for Utah's solution are not perfect. Nonetheless, taken together they reflect a sensible and sound consensus of what Utahns have sought. The path forward will be far more certain if Herbert can now count on the full support of our congressional delegation to implement this historic legislation.

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