Michael O. Leavitt: Utah Compact provides starting point for Congress

Published: Sunday, April 10 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Bishop John C. Wester of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City signs a document known as the Utah Compact during a press conference where community leaders gathered in support of immigration reform at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

Immigration reform has produced political gridlock in Congress and is becoming an obstacle to long-term economic resurgence. Instead of realizing the benefits of an imperfect but best achievable solution, the issue has become increasingly divisive as both sides dig in deeper.

Ugly standoffs in politics often require a respected group to intervene with a new start. Recently, more than 100 Utah community leaders and institutions did just that by making a thoughtful expression of our state's shared values on immigration called the Utah Compact. The authors used simple, short and inspirational language to capture the common sense middle ground on immigration. Now more than 4,200 people have become signatories to the document.

From the consensus represented by the Utah Compact, several innovative immigration bills in the Utah Legislature emerged. Though federal courts may conclude that Utah's new immigration statutes encroach upon enumerated federal powers, the Utah Compact represents a breakthrough in public policy that the U.S. Congress and others would do well to emulate. It represents a neutral and values-minded voice in an otherwise politically charged environment.

The power of the Compact is its nonpolitical origin. The document declares a set of our state's collective values — the rule of law, family unity, economic strength, federal responsibility and a free society. The end result is legislation that is supported by 65 percent of Utahns and a model for the nation.

Congress is a different body than the Utah Legislature. In Washington, not much time is spent examining shared values. It is a place that respects mostly bone-on-bone political power. There, control of the news cycle is measured like time of possession in a football game. Political wedge issues are more quickly embraced than practical solutions because social division energizes the voting blocs needed in the next election.

Lack of a sustainable immigration policy is one of the obstacles standing in the way of our nation's economic resurgence. Each generation of Americans has reconciled demographic changes by relying upon common values like those reflected in the Utah Compact. We must do so again.

It's no accident that publications with divergent ideological points of view such as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal have praised the Utah Compact. It's understandable why nearly a dozen other states are discussing its ideals as well. The Compact took values that were previously under-communicated and gave them a voice. Once values became primary, division became secondary. States and news organizations alike took notice.

Until the federal government acts, many states will feel economically compelled to offer their own solutions and seek federal waivers. They are right to do so. States serve as laboratories for good ideas, and they have much to offer. Utah legislators should be complimented for their courage in showing other states how an elected body, acting in good faith with the desires of their constituency, can represent a multiplicity of values in public policy.

Even more important, Members of Congress should recognize the possible breakthrough that the Utah Compact represents. Federal legislation should be fashioned using it as a starting point.

Michael O. Leavitt is a member of the Deseret News Editorial Advisory Board. He served in the Cabinet of President George W. Bush and as governor of Utah. He is the founder and chairman of Leavitt Partners. Website: www.leavittpartners.com.

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