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In our opinion: Immigration reform is moving in the right direction

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 22 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

It's worth noting that one of the reasons fewer people are being deported is that there are fewer illegal immigrants to deport. The vast majority of people who enter the country illegally are doing so to improve their personal circumstances, and the wobbly recovery has dried up the economic incentives that enticed border crossers in years past.

Associated Press

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Utah is deporting fewer people, and that's a good thing.

In 2012, requests for deportation were down by 25 percent from 2011, and current trends predict a similar downturn this year. Scarce resources in the judicial system account for some of this, but there are other factors at work that suggest a more pragmatic approach to immigration going forward.

It's worth noting that one of the reasons fewer people are being deported is that there are fewer illegal immigrants to deport. The vast majority of people who enter the country illegally are doing so to improve their personal circumstances, and the wobbly recovery has dried up the economic incentives that enticed border crossers in years past. Our immigration system ought to include avenues to accommodate those who want to cross our borders simply to seek a better life. Harsh remedies like deportation ought to be reserved for those who enter the country illegally with more nefarious purposes in mind.

It's encouraging, therefore, that this is the renewed focus of Immigration Customs Enforcement, which has stated that "[o]ur enforcement priorities include convicted criminal aliens, immigration fugitives, recent border crossers and illegal re-entrants." These priorities recognize that deporting the entirety of all undocumented workers in this country is neither feasible nor desirable. Enforcement agents will therefore be spending more time catching dangerous people and less time rounding up farm workers and hotel maids. That's the right approach to take.

Congress is once again considering comprehensive immigration reform, and Utah Sen. Mike Lee has been enlisted as one of the key players in crafting the legislation. That gives Utah a seat at the table, and we welcome the opportunity to have a prominent and respected voice from our state working to solve one of the most pressing issues of the day. We remain concerned, however, about Lee's dogged insistence that he is "not interested in anything that offers amnesty."

Based on many of his previous statements, the senator seems to interpret "amnesty" to include provisions that aren't amnesty, such as the creation of a legal guest-worker status and the levying of fines as substitutes for deportation. Both of these ideas will be essential components to a long-term workable plan, and we hope Lee would avoid rejecting such solutions out of hand.

In meantime, we welcome the more practical methods that ICE is currently implementing. Even if this is a policy born out of necessity, rather than design, it's still a step in the right direction.

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