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My view: Taking the compact to Washington

By Paul T. Mero

Published: Thursday, May 5 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Throughout the legislative debate over state-based immigration reform, Sutherland Institute argued that Utah, as a sovereign state, has a right to ensure its public safety, protect freedom, and promote economic prosperity in the face of federal inaction regarding comprehensive immigration policy.

Unsurprising would be the best word to describe that, as a co-author of the Utah Compact, Sutherland highly recommended the inclusion of the sentence, "We urge state leaders to adopt reasonable policies addressing immigrants in Utah." And while weighing in heavily on the Compact's provisions dealing with families and a free society, it might be surprising to note that the free-market think tank added very little about the provision on the economy — mostly because other partners in the Compact covered this area capably.

This week the economic provision within the Utah Compact takes center stage. Both the Salt Lake and South Salt Lake chambers hosted the Partnership for a New American Economy, a coalition of business leaders and mayors making the economic case for immigration reform. If we are going to get the federal government to act, we are going to need a broad base of support. Bringing together mayors from around the country and the nation's leading businesses across all sectors, the partnership is able to call for reform from Delta Air Lines and Disney, Los Angeles and Lexington, Microsoft and Marriott, and Salt Lake and San Antonio. Several Utah leaders — including the CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and the mayors of Salt Lake City, West Valley City, Ogden and Taylorsville — have joined the Partnership's effort, and I encourage business leaders and mayors across the state to do the same.

It is time to take Utah's message national. The federal government is stuck in political gridlock as our immigration problems grow into an immigration catastrophe. We throw billions upon billions of dollars at the border but lack any coherent immigration strategy. We create visas for businesses to get the employees they need but then erect senseless bureaucratic and legal obstacles that render these visas inadequate or even useless. As a result, we have built an economy that is often dependent upon a steady flow of undocumented immigrants.

Meanwhile, Utah has remade itself as an incubator of smart and innovative immigration solutions. Over the past couple of years, one novel idea after another has taken shape in our state.

First, our business, faith and political leaders came together to create the Utah Compact, a document striking not only for what it said, but for how succinctly and powerfully it said it. In just five short paragraphs, our leaders were able to both capture the problems with our immigration system and chart out a federal path to solve it.

Next, while the federal government continued to lie dormant on this issue, our courageous state legislators passed a series of bills, signed by Gov. Gary Herbert, addressing in-state realities and ensuring that our businesses have all of the employees they need for future growth.

But Utah is only one state. Our nation's immigration problems are ours collectively and will require a national solution. So while Utah can and should celebrate the Utah Compact, our national representatives must step up and take action at the federal level.

Fortunately, we have made some great strides in that regard. The original signers of the Compact, among others and led by Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, soon will be calling on all states to embrace a proposed America's Compact. And national groups, such as the Partnership for a New American Economy, are taking notice.

There is near universal agreement that our legal immigration system is broken. But until Utahns and Americans around the country stand up and tell our representatives that it's time to get serious, real reform is not going to happen. So let's take our message to Washington, especially to Utah's own federal representatives, and remind them, as Ronald Reagan said, if America must have walls, let's build them with wide gates. We not only need reform that ensures our public safety and protects our freedom; we need reform that secures our economic future.

Paul T. Mero is president of Sutherland Institute, a Salt Lake City-based public policy think tank.

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