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N.Y. Times praise unlikely to change Utah immigration debate

Published: Monday, Aug. 31 2015 9:36 a.m. MDT

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. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) 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. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The New York Times' gushing support of the Utah Compact on Sunday may win the state public relations points with the nation, but most agree it's unlikely to affect the state's immigration discussion.

In its editorial, the New York Times pointed to Utah as a place where "people of good sense and good will" have banded together to call for an end to "government by rage." It goes on to praise the Utah Compact, a policy document designed to guide the state's immigration debate toward civility, as a "clear expression of good sense and sanity." It condemns Arizona-style immigration law enforcement as "xenophobic" and radical.

Such a pat on the back from one of the "most influential papers in the world" may help Utah's image, said Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

"Utah rightly or wrongly is maligned and misunderstood nationally and internationally," said Jowers. "The positive impact of this editorial on Utah business, tourism and education cannot be underestimated. It is very important and very positive."

States have a certain "caricature" that impacts their ability to attract tourists and businesses, Jowers said. Arizona, which has garnered a lot of national scrutiny for its tough stance on immigration enforcement, has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in business because of too much negative attention, according to a recent study by the Center for American Progress.

"Reading an editorial like this one will make people reexamine their views of Utah," Jowers said.

Within the state, however, Jowers said he doubts the editorial will have much impact on how the immigration debate plays out.

"It will be used for and against legislation but probably ultimately will not change any votes," he said.

Those who support Orem Republican Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's proposed immigration legislation, which closely mirrors Arizona's controversial law, agreed.

"I don't think the New York Times has any influence over the people of Utah," said Sandstrom. Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, added that the "extreme" liberal newspaper "doesn't represent a lot of the same values we do in Utah."

Sandstrom said he had "no problem" with the Times endorsing the Utah Compact, which champions keeping families intact and recognizing immigrant contributions to the economy, because he personally supports the principles outlined in the document — at least when it comes to dealing with legal immigrants. When people come to the country illegally, they should be prepared to pay the consequences, he said.

Sandstrom took offense at the New York Times description of immigration law enforcement as a means to "uproot and terrorize unwanted immigrants."

"To say that simply enforcing the law is radical and terrorizes people, boy, I think that's totally repugnant," he said. "What are we supposed to do, throw our hands in the air and let people make a mockery of our laws?"

Supporters of the Utah Compact agreed that the New York Times endorsement will likely have little political influence in Utah.

"The average person might say, 'wow,' but Utah's legislators aren't making their decisions based on the opinions of liberal East coast papers," said Paul Mero, president of the Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank that helped to draft the Utah Compact.

Nonetheless, supporters were thrilled by the editorial.

"Any day you get a glowing review from one of the most influential publications in the world, is a good day," said Marty Carpenter, spokesman for the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce, which also helped to draft the compact.

Dee Rowland, government liaison for the Catholic Diocese, which supports the Compact, called the editorial a "great tribute to the state of Utah."

"Our state was held up as a model for a civil attitude on immigration issues," she said. "We couldn't possibly be presented in a more positive light. The tourist bureau and chamber of commerce couldn't buy such good publicity."

The Utah Compact deserves the nation's attention, said Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, because "It's feasible. It makes sense."

Though he acknowledged that the New York Times stamp of approval was unlikely to "give us a lot of help here in Utah," Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said he hoped it would inspire others in the nation to take a more compassionate approach to immigration reform. More than 20 states have filed law-enforcement focused immigration bills since Arizona passed its law.

"If Utah can be a model for other states who want to do something different than what Arizona is doing, then I'm very pleased," Shurtleff said. "I really believe we have a better way of approaching this problem than just rounding them up and shipping them out. There's a comprehensive, reasoned, compassionate way we can deal with this issue."

The Utah Compact was authored by a group of political, business, religious and law-enforcement leaders to guide the state's immigration discussion. So far it has gathered about 2,500 signatures. Among the signers are the mayors of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, former Governor Olene Walker and former U.S. Senator Jake Garn. To get more information about the compact, visit utahcompact.com.

e-mail: estuart@desnews.com

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