In our opinion: Momentum building toward meaningful immigration reform

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 29 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Tony Yapias of Proyecto Latino signs a document called the Utah Compact in support of immigration reform at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City last November.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

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For the first time in decades, momentum is building in Congress toward meaningful immigration reform. This is a positive step that ought to engage all sides in a calm and rational debate centered on a set of agreed-upon principles.

Fortunately, such an approach seems to be underway. On Monday, key Republicans and Democrats in the Senate unveiled a plan that focuses on a few basic ideas.

Among these are: Those immigrants currently working in this country illegally ought to be given a path toward citizenship that allows them to continue; borders should be more tightly secured and systems put in place to better track people with visas; employers should be given ways to quickly and accurately verify a person's legal status before hiring; immigrants who obtain advanced degrees from U.S. universities should be given green cards allowing them to stay and contribute; and employers should be allowed to hire low-skilled immigrants if they can demonstrate an inability to hire citizens or the need for agricultural workers.

President Obama is expected to reveal his own reform plan today. We hope it also focuses on ideas that combine enforcement with the need to allow hard workers to contribute legally to the nation's economy.

Frankly, Congress could do worse than to rally around the principles outlined in the Utah Compact, which establishes basic principles to guide immigration reform discussions and legislation. That ground-breaking document was signed by leaders of business, politics and religion in Utah and has served as a framework for defining issues related to immigration.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, recently told the Deseret News the Utah Compact and the measures Utah's Legislature has passed as a result have made the state a leader in the national discussion. This, he said, has had an impact in Washington, as made clear to him in discussions with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

One of the chief planks in the compact notes that immigration law is primarily a federal concern between the United States and other countries, not something for individual states to decide. It urges Utah's delegation "to lead efforts to strengthen federal laws and protect our national borders."

What a perfect opportunity for Utah's congressional delegation to take a leading role in incorporating the principles of the Utah Compact on a national scale. Those principles call for a respect for the rule of law and the judgment of law officers; a call to preserve families, with an eye toward protecting children; the need for a business-friendly approach that recognizes the value of immigrants to the economy; and a humane approach toward treating immigrants in a free society.

Clearly, the national political atmosphere has changed in recent months. Whatever the motivations, we welcome the new resolve to find meaningful compromises in Washington on this issue. The current economy, in which the flow of immigrants across the southern border has slowed to a trickle, offers a great opportunity to examine changes without heated emotions.

Utah's delegation should be showing the nation how to proceed.

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