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John Florez: Was the Utah Solution just smoke and mirrors?

Published: Saturday, April 16 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Was the Utah Solution just smoke and mirrors, and what happened to the Utah Compact?

When the public outcry over immigration reached a boiling point, community leaders from came forward calling for policymakers to adopt reasonable policies regarding immigration. They created the Utah Compact that contained five principles. Their collective voices gave the needed push and the framework for Utah state policymakers to come up with legislation that would satisfy the public. In 45 days, legislators patched together a set of immigration policies in an exercise that looked like a frantic college student writing a term paper on the last day it was due … and it showed.

Lawmakers said they would follow the five principles of the Utah Compact; however, all they did was stir things up a bit without changing how business and agriculture employers will be doing business. Their Utah Solution seemed to make illegal migrant workers just short of indentured workers; it was difficult to leave the workplace once they signed a contract. They would pay anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 to sign up for the so-called "guest worker" program. The bills passed and signed by the governor did not appear to reflect the Utah values of caring and inclusion. They also passed HB466 that let employers bring in more foreign workers to the state.

Lawmakers failed to follow the overriding principle as intended in the Utah Compact: "Immigrants are integrated into communities across Utah. We must adopt a humane approach to this reality, reflecting our unique culture, history and spirit of inclusion. The way we treat immigrants will say more about us as a free society and less about our immigrant neighbors." Rather than showing immigrants a sense of humanity, the laws passed left them more vulnerable for exploitation by dishonest individuals.

It seems obvious lawmakers were mainly concerned about quieting the public outcry on either side, especially those who wanted strong enforcement. In past years, some lawmakers were bellicose in demanding the rule of law be followed, yet they became docile when they felt pressure from employers to not harm the economy by placing sanctions on employers or disturb the workforce makeup they created. Employers didn't seem too concerned about the dangerous and vulnerable lives illegal immigrants and their families live under in order to survive. The governor and legislators passed laws they had been told were unconstitutional, yet they continued to portray their efforts as the Utah Solution that followed the Utah Compact. They gave themselves an out by making the laws contingent on federal waivers and effective in two years — leaving illegal immigrants subject to scammers and still subject to federal laws.

Instead of working to have Utah's Congressional delegation step up and fix our national immigration laws, they'd rather appear tough on illegal immigration by passing laws that appear meaningless and do not comply with federal policies. It's easier to beat up on the feds than take on our national politicians. Former Sen. Jake Garn, who signed the Utah Compact, said, "Immigration isn't a state problem; it's a national problem. I don't believe we should have a bunch of individual state laws conflicting with each other." Looks like the Legislature tried to market their hurried-up polices as the Utah Solution, without really believing in them.

The only winners were the employers who promoted the Utah Compact to keep the status quo. The losers — the public who wanted common sense solutions and illegal immigrants who want a better life for their families. It's time voters take action to elect lawmakers who make decisions based on principles, values and the public's interest. That's the Utah Solution.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Senator Orrin Hatch, was former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments — including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education.

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