In the wake of the new Arizona anti-immigration law comes, perhaps, one of the greatest ironies of political culture in the modern age: To save this great nation, we must kill it first. As fast as you can say "papers, please," many self-styled patriots are wreaking havoc on American liberty. The new anti-immigration push, not unusual in U.S. history during economic downturns, is far from the "God, Family, Country" mantle worn by its zealous crusaders. In fact, this latest scapegoating of immigrants is ungodly, anti-family and un-American.

Utah must not only say no to Arizona-style justice, it must act to reverse the trend.

Admittedly, as a border state, Arizona has its unique problems with illegal immigration — as do California, New Mexico and Texas. No one should be surprised that Arizona has acted independently in the face of federal inaction. I wholeheartedly support acting independent of federal inaction. What I don't support is the wholesale trashing of our American identity as freedom-loving people.

Likewise, I wholeheartedly support the tea party movement. But make no mistake about it, the tea party movement in America will die if it continues to embrace anti-immigration nativism.

This new class of nativists makes its counterparts of yesteryear look like pikers. A fundamental component of nativist policies of the past was that newcomers to America had to live here as non-citizens for several years to "prove" they were worthy to be counted among us. In their nastier moments, those nativists insisted on extending the waiting period to become eligible for citizenship from two years to 14 years — meaning that non-citizen residents were invited to live among us for over a decade without any concern for our republic. Nativists today seem unwilling to tolerate even one second, let alone 14 years.

Utah is not Arizona. While we can agree that action independent of federal inaction is necessary, how Utah goes about it should reflect both our unique circumstances and our people.

Arizona is now officially a police state. Utah should not follow suit. Utah should reject nativism and, using right reason, do everything in its power to make the best of a difficult situation.

Utah nativists who wield the "rule of law" like a sword know little of its true meaning as applied in a free society — a meaning forged by human nature and human experience. The next time I hear a Utah legislator invoke a strident version of the rule of law, I will ask him if he's willing to sponsor a bill making speeding a felony. The speed limit is the law! Put your patriotism where your mouth is.

I will not use the "rule of law" as a holy cross in a modern witch hunt. Instead, I will stand foursquare against people who want to raise straw men, chase scapegoats, or set off false alarms. I will search for reasonable solutions to address real problems associated with undocumented immigration.

An epic political struggle is about to begin in Utah. Passage two years ago of SB81 was simply the shot at Fort Sumter. This protracted struggle will pit the forces of reason, decency and freedom against "patriots" who would burn the house down to fry a piece of bacon.

Those "patriots" think they've found a home in Utah's tea party movement.

I hope that isn't so.

It's time for every Utahn to ask: What kind of society do I want to live in? How Utahns treat their undocumented neighbors — fellow human beings just like us — is another defining moment in Utah history.

Do you want to live in a police state or a free society?

I choose freedom.

Paul T. Mero is president of Sutherland Institute, a conservative public policy organization in Salt Lake City.