WASHINGTON, D.C. Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is here to win support from other Western governors for a new national immigration policy that includes a call for a temporary guest worker program but not blanket amnesty.
Huntsman's proposed policy, outlined in a five-page resolution drafted with the help of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, will be discussed today by members of the Western Governors' Association and, the governor hopes, adopted.
Huntsman said all of the Western governors have received copies of the resolution and seem to support it, although he said he'll have to wait and see the outcome of the vote set to take place today.
Just getting the governors to consider taking a stand on the issue, Huntsman said, "is a fairly remarkable feat by itself." He said he thought it would be difficult to even approach the issue with other governors.
"The voice of the governors is a very important thing," he said.
He emphasized that the timing is especially important because Congress is likely to take up legislation addressing immigration next month.
The governor said he's been told by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is sponsoring immigration legislation, that if "we could get a resolution through, representing the views of Western governors, that would be huge."
If approved, Huntsman said, the resolution will show that the leaders of Western states, several of which are border states or "gateway" states like Utah, "embrace a common language" on how to handle immigration's biggest issues.
Western states need to weigh in on the issue with Congress because they "suffer a disproportionate financial burden on health care, education, the environment and criminal justice system because of unauthorized migration from Mexico," according to the resolution.
The issue of how the country should deal with undocumented workers is important enough to Utah's governor that he's skipping all but the last 1 1/2 days of the final week of the 2006 Utah Legislature for the National Governors Association meeting in Washington.
Huntsman, along with the other governors, has been to the White House to see President Bush and has met with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.
The conference includes panels addressing various issues, including one focusing on oil dependence and energy issues that Huntsman attended Monday. He'll bring up the immigration resolution today with Western governors before heading back to Utah.
Huntsman first raised the issue with Western governors last year, after immigration came up repeatedly during meetings with Mexican President Vicente Fox and other leaders south of the border about a trade, educational and cultural alliance between Utah and Mexico.
To help sell the alliance, the governor pledged to Fox that he would attempt to influence the national debate on immigration, hopefully with the help of the WGA. Even though the Colorado-based organization has never taken on the issue, Huntsman talked members into at least considering adopting a resolution.
That resolution seeks the development of a "comprehensive national immigration policy" with the "purpose of protecting and preserving the safety and interests of the United States and its citizens while recognizing the needs of Western industries to have a stable and legal supply of workers quickly available where there are no willing U.S. workers otherwise available."
But it goes on to oppose blanket amnesty to the millions of undocumented workers already here, saying unspecified "appropriate sanctions" for them should be part of any solution proposed by Congress.
Instead, the resolution suggests a national temporary guest worker program "where there are documented shortages of U.S. workers." The new program, which should require federal background checks and screening, is described as likely reducing the need for illegal border crossings.
Up to 90,000 additional employment-based immigrant visas should be made available annually to eliminate the current backlog, according to the resolution, and the process should be streamlined. Current federal sanctions against employers who knowingly hire undocumented labor also should be enforced.
The route to citizenship should be speeded up, the resolution states, and Congress should not "inadvertently create incentives for additional illegal immigration by creating unnecessary hurdles and lengthy delays for those who wish to immigrate legally for work or citizenship."Better border security is also on the list, including more coordination with Mexican law enforcement and enhanced technology. Napolitano and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, both Democrats, already have declared a state of emergency along the border with Mexico to free up federal funds for enforcement.