SALT LAKE CITY — Abe Bakhsheshy came to Utah as a student from Iran, and he always intended to return to his country with a teaching degree to improve conditions there.
While in Utah, however, Bakhsheshy's family in Iran was killed by political unrest, so he decided to remain in the state and work toward his dream of teaching.
"It has been an interesting, rewarding and unique journey," the University of Utah David Eccles School of Business professor said Wednesday after accepting an award as one of Utah's New Pioneers. The Salt Lake Chamber and United Way recognized four Utah immigrants, including Bakhsheshy, Dr. Dinesh Patel, Jorge Fierro and Pamela Atkinson, whose contributions have made a difference locally.
"Utah welcomes immigrants and in many respects, Utah is known as a haven for them," said chamber President Lane Beattie. He said the actions of the four awardees and many others have helped "shape" Utah and the immigration discussion across the nation.
Local business and religious leaders, as well as concerned individuals and groups developed the Utah Compact in 2010 to direct their combined sentiments on immigration and forge discussion on the matter. It includes five principles to guide federal solutions, law enforcement, families, Utah's economy and a free society.
At the time, then-president hopeful Donald Trump had proposed a future ban on immigration, and author and executive director of the National Immigration Forum, Ali Noorani, said Utah and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stood out as proponents for immigration. The church, he said, was one of the first organizations to challenge Trump's statement, also voicing support for the Utah Compact.
Noorani said the Utah Compact "fundamentally changed the nation's debate on immigration reform."
He said Utah's leadership is needed now more than ever to lead out on the discussion.
"Conservative or liberal, we need to be willing to meet people where they are on immigration, but not leave them there," Noorani said Wednesday, quoting a passage in his book, "There Goes the Neighborhood." "That is how we'll arrive at an immigration process that honors our culture and values, works for all Americans, respects human dignity and the rule of law, and helps all Americans thrive."
The chamber honored the four contributors Wednesday because of their outstanding achievements, which include thriving businesses, organizations and foundations that assist Utahns and immigrants who make their homes in the state and are pursuing the American dream.
"America is the land of opportunity," said Keith McMullin, CEO of Deseret Management Corp. and emeritus general authority of LDS Church. He said immigrants in the United States are responsible for more than 25 percent of new business creation and the jobs that come with it.
"To achieve this kind of dream, you have to dream big," said Patel, a venture capitalist and local philanthropist who emigrated to Utah from India in 1985. "But simply dreaming cannot take you there. You have to have action."
Bakhshesy said he always dreamed of becoming a teacher and that he has "cherished" his time in Utah doing just that.