Webb: The political dynamics of the Legislature's immigration debate are fascinating. It's a classic case of the state's "establishment" (broadly defined) vs. grassroots populism.

The establishment has come together on this issue in a strong show of unity. Utah's leaders, almost unanimously, oppose onerous and punitive immigration legislation. A broad federation of interests, some organized under the Immigration Policy Coalition, is encouraging further study to enact sensible and reasoned immigration reform. This loose federation is big and potent, comprised of the state's most powerful organizations, including leaders of the LDS Church, other religious leaders, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., and a who's who of top business executives (including leaders of most chambers of commerce, and industry associations representing hotels, agriculture, manufacturing, real estate, homebuilding, general construction, trucking, independent businesses, tourism, restaurants, international business and business recruitment).

This federation also includes numerous religious, nonprofit, and advocacy groups, along with the editorial boards of most daily newspapers and broadcasters. It includes numerous Hispanic organizations, and lots of lobbyists. (Disclosure: I helped organize the IPC with the Salt Lake Chamber.)

Arrayed against this federation (perhaps the biggest, broadest coalition pulled together on one issue in many years), stands a very noisy, very threatening grassroots group of anti-immigrant zealots who can generate numerous phone calls, e-mail messages, and cards and letters to legislators.

This standoff is tough for lawmakers, most of whom aren't anti-immigrant and don't want to make laws that would damage the economy or hurt young people seeking a college education. Most legislators also know this issue must be resolved at the federal level, not with a patchwork of inconsistent state laws.

Some legislators worry that the anti-immigrant activists will hurt them come election time, while the business leaders and other establishment organizations won't really punish them. The right compromise is to support Sen. Scott Jenkins' task force bill and give this issue the interim study it deserves.

• On a personal note, my wife and I (with tens of thousands of other Utahns) have greatly enjoyed following the encouragement of the late LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley and contributing to his inspired Perpetual Education Fund. What is more satisfying than helping young people in difficult circumstances obtain an education so they can support themselves and their families, and become leaders in their communities and nations?

I believe President Hinckley would be utterly embarrassed if his beloved state of Utah became so stingy and short-sighted as to deny a college education to a few hundred of the most needy — and deserving — young people in our midst. These are young people who have pulled themselves out of the most dire of conditions to graduate from high school and qualify for college at the same cost as our own children. They should be treasured, not cast aside.

Pignanelli: Strong work ethic. Family centric. Suspicious of government and authority. Entrepreneurial and risk taking;. Hope of a better life for children. Dedicated to a community. These have been the qualities of Americans for generations. These are the qualities of most newcomers — legal and illegal.

I lack subjectivity on the immigration issue. My Italian grandparents immigrated to Utah almost a century ago (at least one was a possible illegal). As with millions of fellow travelers, they worked hard and were proud to be in America — regardless of status. Until hired as a law clerk, I labored at demanding low-skill jobs (weed pulling, busboy, dishwasher, custodian, late-night security, construction). I was grateful for the work and it was certainly not beneath me. Thus, I have deep respect for any person willing to undertake even worse toil. A steady inflow of industrious people, and their driven children, will keep this country a superpower throughout the 21st Century — notwithstanding China and India. (As a convenience for readers now cursing me, I will make it easy: [email protected]).

The world renowned Economist publication, after an exhaustive in-depth analysis, concluded immigration is beneficial to all countries.

Obviously educated migrants make a worthy input in the short term. "But migrants as a whole," noted the Economist, "in the long term and counting the contribution of their children when they grow up and get jobs, are not a drain on public services. For rich countries with aging workforces in particular, gains from importing the young, the energetic and those willing to take risks comfortably outweigh the costs."

Yet, the Legislature is considering a number of bills to "crack down" on illegal immigrants in response to outspoken constituents fearing the torrid pace of change in society. Because any resolution of immigration will require action from the federal government, many state proposals are essentially a sop to right-wing groups. The measure to deny in-state college tuition for the children of undocumented workers makes no sense — we want these determined individuals educated and naturalized. Current rhetoric hurled against immigrants paints them as a parasitic foreign disease. Yet, Utahns pay less for groceries and housing because of their sweat. The LDS Church is suggesting compassion towards migrants. Building walls only enriches the slave smugglers. Therefore the more humane and pragmatic approach is for decision makers to ignore the irrational emotions and do what is best for our country and state: expand legal immigration and provide the avenue to legitimacy for the undocumented.


Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. He was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and a Deseret News managing editor. E-mail: [email protected]. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House minority leader. Pignanelli's spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a Utah state tax commissioner. E-mail: [email protected].