The Sutherland Institute is a Utah-based conservative think tank. In general, it stands for the Constitution, free markets, private property rights, minimal government and, it goes without saying, the rule of law.

So when Sutherland issues a position statement on illegal immigration that stands squarely on the side of compassion, accommodation and realistic reforms, it may come as a surprise to some who consider themselves true conservatives. But it shouldn't. We hope all of them go to and read the position paper and essay published there.

Like us, the folks at Sutherland understand that the problem of illegal immigration won't be solved through anger, punitive state laws or a never-ending repetition of the mindless, "What part of the word 'illegal' don't you understand?" As the think tank's position statement, issued Monday, says, "Oversimplification of complex issues is a hallmark of strident advocacy."

Real immigration reform will take a dry-eyed realization of the situation and an understanding that most people who enter the country illegally are well-meaning, hard-working people who want to contribute. The position statement acknowledges that immigrants historically have added to the strength of the United States, bringing "a notable work ethic, moral character, and sense of patriotism. ..."

Of course some illegal immigrants are malicious criminals. But violating immigration laws alone should not be considered a malicious crime any more than should violations of the posted speed limits. Nor is it a "denigration of the rule of law."

"In these cases, it is the poorly estimated crafting of the law that actually denigrates the rule of law — it ignores or miscalculates actual human experience and fails to anticipate (or even effectively control) individual human action," the position statement said.

Sutherland recommends Utah lawmakers be guided by four "sentiments." First, welcome all people of goodwill to the state; second, don't make law-enforcement officers or other Utahns serve as proxy for federal immigration officials; third, pass laws that enhance "economic transparency," making it possible for immigrants to be law-abiding; and fourth, encourage illegal immigrants to be "thoroughly assimilated, literate and productive members of our community."

To do this, Sutherland offers several recommendations. Chief among these is to request a federal waiver than would allow Utah to created an in-state work permit.

Sutherland now joins a list of influential Utah voices, that also includes the Salt Lake Chamber and several top political leaders, in defining meaningful, intelligent reform. Absent real leadership in Washington, this position paper offers some of the best ideas we've heard for a statewide approach to the situation.