Support the 'Utah solution'

Published: Friday, April 29 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Saturday, the Utah County Republican Party meets for its annual convention. Among the issues that conventioneers will discuss is whether to call for a repeal of HB116, the guest-worker portion of a package of comprehensive immigration reforms that some have referred to as the "Utah solution."

We would urge the Utah County Republicans to follow the trend in most of Utah's Republican county conventions and support, instead of undermine, the Utah solution.

The issues surrounding Utah's reforms have been scrutinized and debated vigorously over the past several months, first through a long public debate leading up to the legislative session and then through focused legislative deliberation.

We cannot speak for how individual legislators or the governor came to their conclusions about the package of immigration reforms that passed by wide majorities this last legislative session, but we can share some of the logic that has compelled us to support Utah's comprehensive approach, including HB116.

We fully recognize persistent illegal immigration in the United States has created untenable problems. The federal government's failure to control our borders has led to millions of undocumented individuals within our country. The resulting conflicts from this status quo, a mishmash of differentially applied laws, are unacceptable.

We also acknowledge this is first and foremost a federal issue and that ultimately the federal government will have to address immigration in a serious and comprehensive way. Nonetheless, we believe that initial experimentation at the state level with realistic, humane and comprehensive reforms that do not provide a path to citizenship is superior to enforcement-only efforts and is not tantamount to amnesty.

In our federal system states have long been the laboratories for policy solutions to vexing national problems. In some areas, such as the delivery of federally mandated social services, the federal government explicitly waives federal rules when it identifies experiments that might prove useful. This was true with federal welfare in the 1990s and it is true with Medicaid today.

If legislation were required to permit experimentation, a simple federal statute authorizing the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive some federal immigration requirements in states establishing reasonable enforcement and guest worker "demonstration projects" should suffice.

Given the fact of porous borders, given the current mishmash of federal law, given the differential enforcement, we believe, with federal authorization, that it is appropriate for states to create reasonable and orderly processes that begin to address this multi-faceted problem. We further believe that such experiments can and will guide federal reform.

The package of legislation passed by the Utah Legislature provides a thoughtful experiment. It culls dangerous criminals from our society while providing a mechanism for people of good will caught in the shadows of illegal immigration to step into the light, account for their actions and restore their dignity, but without providing a path to citizenship.

The Utah solution consists of the entire package of legislation that was passed. It is not perfect. It represents compromises that some deem too harsh and others too lenient. Nonetheless, its pragmatism and humanity continue to garner national interest, not just from media, but from conservative state legislators around the country seeking solutions to the complex immigration issues that we all face.

Taken together as a package, the immigration-related bills passed by the Utah Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert are consistent with the principles of the Utah Compact. Accordingly, it is the full package that enjoys the support of many community and religious organizations, including our owner, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a responsible and, in our opinion, a constitutional effort to address the complex issues of immigration. The comprehensive set of bills represent a wholistic approach with potential to ultimately inform better federal solutions. Efforts to repeal any part of this innovative package would be shortsighted.

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