One of the definitions of intelligence is the ability to learn not only from our own mistakes but also from the mistakes of others. Such will be the test of our Utah lawmakers as they consider taking up the issue of illegal immigration again. But, will they have done their homework in trying to understand the different sides of the issue and consider the consequences of their decisions upon the state's interest?

Our country and way of life are being threatened by the growing influx of people crossing our borders illegally. While Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, is right in blaming Congress for its lack of leadership in dealing with the problem, mere bellicose talk only fans the flames of fear and anger. We should be calling for the best within us to work together for the common good.

Sen. Hickman's tough talk about fixing immigration is nothing new. The last several sessions, state lawmakers have been coming up with the same fixes — send illegals back, no public benefits, no drivers' licenses, and no in-state tuition. They called for tougher penalties for immigrants, token sanctions for employers, and have allowed the banking industry — by their silence on the matter — to flourish by transferring money earned by immigrants to their homeland.

He says he has talked to his local GOP friends who support his stand on the issue. That's like going to a cattle ranchers convention where everyone agrees meat is good. Public policy requires balancing the various interests and deciding on what is in the public's interest.

What those who propose quick fixes fail to understand is that societies, especially ours, are in a constant state of dynamic equilibrium where changing one aspect affects other parts. Immigration has always been a workforce issue where America looked to foreign workers in times of crisis. Lacking a national immigration and workforce policy, our employers are forced to find creative ways in order to compete in today's global marketplace, even if it means playing fast and loose with outdated immigration laws. Sen. Hickman might realize that if he took the time to talk with our own state employers such as farmers and growers; the construction, recreation and manufacturing industries; and service industries such as hotels and restaurants. He also seems to fail to recognize the growing economy for local businesses that benefit from a growing consumer market.

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What has accelerated the influx of foreign workers to this country are the help wanted signs put out by our employers — some willing to break outdated immigration laws — along with bankers and businesses who hang out se habla espanol signs. They are the ones reaping the benefits of a broken immigration law; yet, they remain silent and unwilling to protect their immigrant consumer and workforce "cash cows." And until they do, they will allow our citizens to continue worrying about our way of life and making immigrants their scapegoats.

Rather than tough talk, fixing our immigration laws requires leaders to consider how best to promote the public good in today's changing society. Immigration is a moral and economic issue and ought to reflect the values that hold together our civil society. The problem of illegal immigration belongs to each of us, as do the solutions. Our business and religious leaders have the ability to help solve the problem, yet are silent and content to let lawmakers struggle with it, leaving citizens polarized and fearful of losing the quality of life they once enjoyed. The strength of our nation has always been the moral principles that earned respect worldwide. We need to regain that respect.

Utah native John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations, served on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch and on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards. He also has been deputy assistant secretary of labor. E-mail: